SUNDAY HOMILIES

IS ‘BACK TO SENDER’ AN ACCEPTABLE PRAYER PATTERN? Rev Fr. Martin Onwudiwe

Aug 24, 2017

It has been the natural tendency of man to reject bad omen and any ill-fated occurrence directed towards him and his relations. Almost in every corner of our society, wherever people quarrel over any issue, ‘back to sender’ has always been a reoccurring phrase between the disputing parties. Yet, beyond disputing parties, every nook and cranny of our land is clustered with prayer houses, ministries and ministration homes, adoration centres and vigil centres. In these centres, one observes the contagion of this new coinage as modus orandi of our time. Day by day, this subject matter is amply endorsed. There is hardly any Christian who has not come under the hex of the new teaching. The ‘back to sender’ inscription is today seen on doors, seats, cars, cloths and on shops. It is indeed a common sight in our world of today.

The question remains: could there be some scriptural passages that back this new mode of prayer? The Mosaic law of an ‘eye for an eye’ goes to satisfy the natural retaliatory tendencies of man. In as much as some Old Testament passages, especially the psalms incline towards that, it is worth noting that the New Testament is a fulfilment of the Old Testament. “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish the law but to fulfil it” (Mtt. 5:17). Anything that calls for fulfilment entails that it is not complete. In this regard, it therefore necessitates adding a new meaning to an old religious teaching. Little wonder why Christ would say, “it was said to you…but I say to you…” If Christ asked us to turn the other cheek to anyone who slaps us instead of giving in to the ‘eye for eye’ vindictive reaction, it necessitates a complete change of law.

Retaliation was however, justified by natural and ancient religious code of conduct. The African Traditional Religion for instance, reveals vindictive prayer as a normal mode of prayer. The Igbo ‘O biara egbu m gbuo onwe ya’ (let the bad intents of my enemies bounce back to them) was a destructive petition that was once found only on the lips of traditional religionists. Today, it has made evident ingress among contemporary Christians. Without fear of overstatement, one could affirm that nowadays, vindictive prayers are more widespread among Christians than traditional religionists. It is a prayer that is principally targeted against a declared enemy. It is an immense incongruity yelling ‘back to sender’ with the same mouth with which we entreat, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Calling for the destruction of those who sin against us tantamounts to asking God not to forgive us our sins in the same measure as we do not forgive our offenders. When the Scribes and Pharisees brought to Christ the woman that was caught in fornication, he permitted only those free from sin to be the first to cast the stone on her (Jn. 8 : 7).

Come to think of it, if God were to pay us in our own coin, who can survive his wrath? – Si iniquitates observaveris Domine, Domine, qui sustinebit? (Ps. 130:3). Can we really command God? Who has ever succeeded in commanding God to kill his enemies? Is it possible that the more we invoke fire upon our enemies, the more the blessing of God is made manifest in their lives? What about similar vindictive prayers channelled against us? Accepting to follow the footsteps of Christ (Christianity) is a new identity and invariably calls for a new approach towards our challenges. It entails ‘doing it in Christ’s way’. Christ could have called down fire to consume his executioners but he went ahead calling on the Heavenly Father to forgive them (Lk. 23: 34). St. Stephen forgave his murderers. Likewise, St. John Paul II was shot at a very close range with the intention of eliminating him, yet he not only forgave the sniper but also visited him in prison.

Christianity is participation in the victimhood of Christ. The people of Christ are the Christ of the people. Since he did not slap in return when he was slapped, such prayer pattern which is abiblical and unchristian must be kept at bay. It may be justified by natural justice but love absolutely condemns it. Were we to go by the Mosaic law of an ‘eye for an eye’, the entire humanity will be blind. Therefore, the ‘back to sender’ quip should not be in the diction of any Christian worth the name.

Contacts

Catholic Diocese of Nnewi
Nnobi Road, Nnewi
P.M.B 5099, Nnewi
Anambra State, Nigeria                     

Email: info@nnewidiocese.org 
Phone: +234(0) 80 345 6789

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