The Economic Recession And I: A Reflection On The Cross.
And he said, “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.” (Mark 7:20-23).
The Nigerian nation is undergoing another phase of economic crisis that is witnessing a further increase in poverty and hopelessness. We are witnessing a political situation that has silenced the voice of the people, politicized victimhood, and set a system of blame that nurture rather than eradicate the crisis. The evil mechanism that rules the world feeds on our inability to shift blame to the self. A similar situation is witnessed in the New Testament. The very political climate that crippled the Jewish nation at the birth of the messiah, is similar in nature with the current economic and political crisis that has brought the Nigerian nation to its knees.
The aim of this write-up is to reemphasize the Cross of Jesus Christ at the face of the economic and political crisis. The cross, as knowledge and life, exposed the evil mechanism responsible for human crisis with the theme: Love your enemies. Jesus Christ did not engage the people in a political symposium or violent demonstrations or riot, rather he proffered the way of the cross as the perfect imitation of the Father’s will for humanity. He began from the first person ontology of the self. The crisis that will eventually engulf the polity begins from a single drop of corruption nurtured in the heart. By his cross, he exposed the worldly mechanism that controls our will to good for what is, namely victimization.
- Corruption – a collective effort.
The political climate is such that a large majority believe that our politicians are responsible for our present economic and political woes. Joe Biden, an American vice president once said that, ‘Fighting corruption is not just good governance. It’s self-defense. It’s patriotism’. If it takes patriotism to cure corruption, then it takes mutual complicity to nurture and develop it. We are all involved in the business of corruption. From the biblical point of view, anything that is opposed to good, is corrupt. Sin is corruption both in the eyes of God and man. The realities that give birth to corruption were mentioned by Jesus Christ in the seventh chapter of the gospel according to Mark. They include; evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evils emanated from a first person ontology known as the self. It is difficult to distance oneself from the mentioned vices, for at some point in our lives, we were guilty of some if not all of them. Jesus Christ emphasized that these evil desires come from within to make a person corrupt. So corruption is when we conceive and bring forth from within ourselves these evil desires. They are the very contributes to corruption. But when it grows, we point accusing fingers on those unfortunate members of the society whose uncontrollable greed and hunger for power, placed them at the helm of affairs.
- The political climate of the Nativity
Biblical language has a subtle way of narrating the political and economic climate of the time of Christ’s birth. According to the gospel of Luke, the ministry of John the Baptist was motivated by the drama that unfolded between the Sanhedrin, Roman Authorities and Herod Antipas.(Cf: Luke 3:1-3). Jerusalem is ruled by the local and aristocracy and temple high priests, who mete out justice through the great Sanhedrin, a court comprised of seventy-one judges with absolute authority to enforce Jewish religious law- though, in the case of a death sentence, they must get the approval of the Roman Governor. The inability of the Sanhedrin to approve a death sentence, aligned them to the Roman Governor in order to distract the people from the corruption in the temple. Any form of opposition is judged a threat to ‘order’. Their corrupt practices motivated the divine intervention that gave rise to the prophetic activities of the Baptist.
The gospel of repentance appeared prima face unconnected with the situation, hence the chief priests branded the Baptist a lunatic! But it served its purpose of preparing the heart of the people to accepting the message of salvation that will come from Jesus Christ (Cf: Luke 3:16). At the emergence of Jesus Christ’s famous teaching of love for enemies (Matt. 5: 44), backed by great signs and wonders, the organized corruption of the time, experienced its first threat. The Jewish religious authorities had always made the Jews to believe that the Roman occupation with the excessive taxes were the cause of the economic crisis, hence their enemies. They motivated hatred in the people for the Romans through their false teaching. Thus the love of enemies becomes a threat in the sense that accepting the Roman Occupation of Israel as good, will expose their evils. It will expose the exorbitant temple taxes and the extortions of the Local Tax collectors who collaborate with Herod Antipas. Every effort of the Sanhedrin was to reduce love of enemies to weakness, such that only a revolution will lead the people out of the darkness of the crisis. Unfortunately, every revolution at the time is met with crucifixion. A threat to order! Thus while the Roman governor Pontius Pilate is saddled with the maintenance of order to promote the supremacy of the Roman Emperor, the Sanhedrin in turn ignite the crisis that leads to riot to distract the people from the temple.
- The contagious mechanism
How can we speak of order in the midst of economic crisis? This is the mechanism that governs the world. The inability to face the real cause of the crisis – the evil desires that emanate from within the individual. The mechanism sustains itself by proffering, like the Sanhedrin, a solution that will bury the people deeper into crisis. Believing the Romans to be the enemy and backing it up by scripture thickens the concealment. This attitude will never perceive any good in Pax Romana –Roman peace. The nature of the order enforced by the Sanhedrin is that of victimization of the innocent to maintain relative peace. Those who ‘innocently’ react positively to their teaching by leading a revolution against the Romans like the Zealots, are killed as deterrent to others. Hence the people are caught in fix. They suffer but cannot be saved. This is the mechanism that operates in a system of organized corruption. The mechanism sustains itself as long as it remains hidden under false teaching. According to R. Scott Appleby, ‘the ambivalence of the sacred gives religious leadership its decisive character’. Blasphemy is a crime that is hydra-headed in the sense that only the Sanhedrin can interpret its meaning. The law of the Yahweh in the book of Leviticus condemns to death by stoning all blasphemers. (Cf: Leviticus 24:16). The enemies to order are often accused of blasphemy as we shall see in the case of Jesus Christ.
Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas bought into this mechanism for it assisted each in his individual quest. There is peace in the land, Pilate is happy and no one questions the excesses of Herod Antipas. The three- Pilate, Antipas, and the Sanhedrin – unite to deal with the enemies to order, namely the innocent victims. To maintain order, we unite against an innocent victim that must be sacrificed. Someone must be accused in order to satisfy any political argument. Today it is APC, tomorrow is it the PDP. The mechanism motivates us to shift blames to the wrong side, while not being able to solve the problem. Yet any attempt to stage a ‘peaceful’ protest is a threat to unity! The mechanism unites into killing one of us!
The poor in this case are those who are not benefiting from the crisis. Their case is critical in the sense that any attempt to help them comes in the form of resistance to the operational mechanism of victimization. The paradox according to Rene Girard, is that resistance motivates a reenactment of the mechanism. For example, the IDPs of the boko haram and Fulani herdsmen crisis attract the attention and sympathy of the world, but a resistance to the diversion of funds for their wellbeing is met with violence. The peaceful protest to address the economic situation in the country by the popular music artist Tuface, tagged ‘#IStandWithNigeria’ was hijacked by the opposition which led to it being called off. What will benefit the poor victims is an alternative system. A system that is directly the opposite of the mechanism of victimization.
- The cross and the mechanism of love
The cross of Jesus Christ is the most successful revolution against the mechanism of victimization. The cross exposed the mechanism of victimization and replaced it with the mechanism of love. Prior to the cross, the mechanism held sway of humanity, but Jesus Christ sacrificed his life on the cross to expose and expel it. The truth of the matter is that Jesus Christ played according to rules set by the mechanism by allowing himself to die on the cross. His death unlike the deaths wrought by the mechanism, could not yield the relative peace that will calm all nerves. Jesus Christ became the first enemy of order whose death did not yield the intended result- order through victimization. Rather the remnants of his disciples continued to testify to his innocence with their lives, long after his death and resurrection, giving rise to a new religious movement known today as Christianity.
Jesus was accused on a two count charge of blasphemy- claimed to be son of God (Cf: Luke 22: 69-71), and sedition- claimed he is a king (Cf: John 18: 35-37). In his trial and judgement, religion and politics united to execute him. The High Priest Caiaphas cast the ‘first stone’ that killed Jesus Christ by his famous expression; it is better for one man to die than for a whole nation to perish. (Cf: John 18:14). While hanging on the cross, he forgave all those responsible for his death. By this he exposed the mechanism for what it is, namely victimization of the innocent. Jesus Christ willingly offered to die in order to establish love that accommodates others. For while the mechanism of victimization divides us by uniting us against and innocent victim, the mechanism of love unites us by saving the life of an innocent victim.
We are not aware of our involvement in the mechanism, for it constantly eludes our imagination that the death of the innocent cannot guarantee peace or order. The death of an innocent cannot bring peace, rather it heralds a relative peace charged with mutual suspicion. It raises the question: who is the next victim? It is undeniably and universally true that the less rational the persecutors’ conviction the more formidable that conviction becomes. We must be blind to the fact that we are victimizing an innocent person for the mechanism of victimization to work. This is the reason for the ambivalence of the sin of blasphemy. Those who will stone the victim to death will convince themselves of carrying out a holy duty, whereas they are accomplishing the evil desires of the Sanhedrin. Knowing this, Jesus Christ forgave his executioners.
The restlessness that followed the event of the crucifixion eroded sleep from the high priests (Cf: Mathew 27: 62-66). The request for soldiers to guide the tomb presupposes that the mechanism has failed. The resurrection after three days and his appearances to some of his disciples, prompted an expectation of something new. And on the day of Pentecost, a new life, a mechanism of love was born. What will bring us out of the current recession is both individual and collective embrace of the mechanism of love informed by the cross. Our religious leaders hold the keys that will open the doors to the mechanism of love. But because of ignorance of the ‘ethics of the cross’ – withdrawal of the will from corruption, they prefer to ask us to pay tithes or sow seeds, and for the Muslims, to support the activities of boko haram.
Anthony Ekpunobi, CM
Faculty of Theology, University of Ljubljana.
 Joe Biden. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site:
 O’Reilly, B. Martin D. Killing Jesus. New York: Henry Holt & Co, 2012. P. 50.
 Pax Romana, (Latin: “Roman Peace”) a state of comparative tranquility throughout the Mediterranean world from
the reign of Augustus (27 BCE–14 CE) to the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161 –180 CE). Augustus laid the foundation for this period of concord, which also extended to North Africa and Persia. The empire protected and governed individual provinces, permitting each to make and administer its own laws while accepting Roman taxation and military control. From: https://www.britannica.com/event/Pax-Romana. 21 February 2017.
 Zealot, member of a Jewish sect noted for its uncompromising opposition to pagan Rome and the polytheism it professed. The Zealots were an aggressive political party whose concern for the national and religious life of the Jewish people led them to despise even Jews who sought peace and conciliation with the Roman authorities. A census of Galilee ordered by Rome in ad 6 spurred the Zealots to rally the populace to noncompliance on the grounds that agreement was an implicit acknowledgment by Jews of the right of pagans to rule their nation. From: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Zealot. 21 February 2017.
 Appleby R. S. The Ambivalence Of The Sacred: Religion, Violence And Reconciliation. New York: Rowman &
Littlefield Pub. Inc., 2000. P.55.
 Girard, R. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. New York: Orbis Books, 2001. P. 20.
 ………… The Scapegoat. Transl. Yvonne Freccero. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1989. P. 35.