“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well” (Acts 15:28-29).
In our Gospel passage today, we hear Jesus saying to us: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” You know it is one thing to know a person, and another to respect that person, but a different thing altogether to be a friend to that person.
You may know the man called President Buhari (at least, you see his picture when you enter a bank) but it is a different thing when he is your close friend, when, for instance, he calls you regularly to check on you and discuss with you. In the same way, we may know God as God, we may be Christians who worship God and carry our religious practices, but it is always a different thing altogether when we are friends with God.
The truth is that it is not all those who go to church that are God’s friends. The question for us today is: “Is God my friend?” The answer to this question depends on whether or not we actually do what God commands.
In today’s first reading, a decision was reached regarding the Gentiles who were coming into the Christian Faith. They wouldn’t have to be circumcised, but they were to abstain from items sacrificed to idols, from the blood of strangled animals and from fornication. These were cultural/religious practices already in place among the Gentiles which they were now to renounce by virtue of their Christian faith.
If the Apostles were given a chance to examine our African cultural practices, I am sure there are certain things they would adopt into the Christian Faith itself and there are certain things they would ask us to relinquish. This is called inculturation. When Christianity took a foothold in Rome, it took a lot from the Roman culture (for instance, it took some of its festivals and Christianized them) and made the Roman Christians renounce some of their practices that were completely against God’s commandments.
A similar thing has to happen in Africa such that Africans would own Christianity instead of constantly seeing it as a foreign religion (brought in by the colonial masters to suppress the people). At the same time, we Africans who have accepted the Faith must realize that certain aspects of our traditional practices must be given up. It is always scandalous to see Christians champion/partake in certain rites that are clearly acts of worship to idols in the name of “Tradition”, “Tradition”. We see this especially during burial, marriage and so on.
Would you rather do what your ancestors do or what Jesus wants you to do? Do you understand that having embraced Christ, you should be more loyal to Him than your people? What is the whole essence of our conversion if after receiving Holy Communion in the Church, we would still partake of a meal prepared with incantations and presided over by the chief priest of local deity of our community during a funeral? Why would Christians mete our cruel actions to a woman who has lost her husband to the extent of abusing her, degrading her dignity and making her do horrible things in the name of tradition? Whose friendship do you seek to protect with all diligence? That of God or that of your tradition?