BY ANYANG’ NYONG’O
Some time recently I saw a friend of mine complaining in the media about priests who pray for politicians at times when such politicians are in trouble, or have some problems. I definitely thought this was unfair: the Church should take care of those in problems and seek God’s intervention to help such people. But we are also reminded that we should pray all the
time: when we are happy, when we are sad, when we succeed, when we fail and when we just pray for others and humankind in general.
That last statement brings me to the subject matter of my essay today. Very recently I went for a Sunday morning service in the church where I always go whenever I am in Nairobi—which is not very often! But I enjoy going to church, not as a politician or an academic, but as an ordinary God fearing Kenyan who was born into a Christian family over three score years ago.
Going to Church every Sunday therefore became both a culture and a “normal”
religious practice for me. It also became something that gives me solace and helps me listen to important messages that connect me to God and help me appreciate the wonderful life that we are given by the Almighty.
But that Sunday when I was sitting at the front pews and immensely enjoying the singing by the worship team, I did not know what was in store for me. I sat there as an ordinary Kenyan not wearing any titles or bothered by any worldly protocol. The public life that we lead makes it very necessary for society to give us space every now and again just to enjoy our Kenyannes and our humanity like any other human beings who wake up to go to the market, pray in the church or stroll in the streets.
What was in store for me that morning came from a visiting priest who praised the church for being a wonderful building and the worshippers for being so lively; then came the bombshell when he added: “I did not know that even politicians come to this church!” I suddenly felt like an owl which had blundered into daylight! Surely is it so strange to meet an individual in this Kenya of ours who can be a politician but also does other normal things that Kenyans do? Is it really abnormal for a politician to have faith?
I think Jesus had a point here. All of us who read the New Testament, especially the Gospels, remember the story of the Centurion which appears in all the four Gospels: Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. The story goes something like this.
The Centurion was a commander in the Roman security forces in Israel at the time of Jesus. His servant fell sick and he was told that Jesus had the power of God to heal his servant. So he sent out word through his friends that he needed Jesus to heal his servant.
But when he heard that Jesus was actually ready to come to his house and heal his servant he was shocked because, as a Gentile, he felt thoroughly unworthy to welcome Jesus in his home. As a sinner who was in fact a tyrant the way he ordered people under him to do all kinds of things, he felt even worse to face this man of God called Jesus.
So he pleaded with the following words: “Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed.”
These were words of great humility, very unlikely to come from the mouth of a proud tyrant who strode his neighborhood like a colossus. But the moment of truth had come to him. That although he could command men and move mountains with his authority when it came to his soldiers performing well in the field, he could not command life to come back to his servant except by accepting the mighty word of God. So he said: “Speak the word only and my servant shall be well.”
We earthlings who go to church in our humility only want to listen to the word so that we may be well. Jesus did not begin by rejecting the Centurion in any way, or marveling how a whole Centurion could welcome him to his house. He immediately knew that a child of God was suffering and his services were needed. It was not the title “Centurion” that caught his attention; it was the faith of the man whose servant was dying that made him go to where even the owner of the house did not expect him to go.
Some of us politicians (read sinners) go to church simply to seek the word—and remember “in the beginning was the word”—to eat the bread of life, to be atoned for our sins, to renew our faith in God. We least go there to impress the priest or the preacher; or I hope we don’t! We would highly appreciate it if preachers welcome us the way Jesus welcomed the invitation to the Centurion’s house “to save the humble servant from death”.
We have so many humble servants that we too need to pray for, and the best place on Sunday to do so is the Church. Any sign of doubt, rejection or “stigmatism” by church authorities just dampens the soul for no reason at all.
I am saying so because the incident I am reporting is not really the first
one: I have had such occurrences before. I would hazard a guess that some of my colleagues may have also experienced the same thing. But I am glad that in my local church in Ratta the Church leadership treats me as a simple village boy who grew up with the others looking after cattle and occasionally stealing sugar cane from the river banks.