A Christian, Michael Richmond Duru, takes a look at that value for which alone life can be forfeited and finds out that it is called Life!
“For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” – Matthew 16:26
I. the Concept of Life in the Igbo Traditional Worldview
The ancient Igbo people, our forebears and progenitors, in many respects, have been adjudged as a wise and discreet people, who were incisive and insightful both in practical judgement and in their apprehension and codification of reality. One such area is their conviction about the primacy of life itself. They held life to be the supreme gift above all else; they perceived that life is the first principle and primal value of the created order. This belief they codified in several maxims and nomenclatures of everyday life which were in this way also transmitted across their generations.
We readily find their collective view on the value of life in such nomenclatures as: ‘Ndubuisi’ – life is the first thing; ‘Ndubueze’ – life is the chief thing; ‘Ndubuaku’ – life is true wealth; ‘Ndukama’ - life is better than other things; ‘Ndudiri’ – if there is life other things will follow; ‘Ndunaka’ – life determines other things; ‘Nduzuo’ – may life reach everyone and everything. The ancient Igbo also hold that ‘Ihe-A-Ka-Ndu’ – nothing can be greater than life. This is to say that, all things being equal, nothing can be valued over and above life; nothing can take priority over the primacy and prelacy of life, as such, and precisely, human life
In all this, we judge their views to be right and consistent with both the natural law and the revealed law of God. Indeed, nothing can be more important than life. In the realm of nature, nothing outside of life itself, as a specific reality, is worth more than life. Nothing can be so deemed without grave error and deep damage. Most primitive cultures, as barbaric as many of them were, still held life in primacy and would not forfeit life except for a grave cause or to seek to preserve life itself. Even in those places, events or circumstances in which life were destroyed, the perpetrators yet held life as an absolute value; but would seek reasons to justify their denying this to other people. No one would deny the supreme value of life without demeaning his own life.
Nevertheless, in this reflection, we shall begin the attempt to advance this belief to the point that the only thing more important than life is life itself; such that, when it is needful (when it is necessary, and not just expedient) life becomes a secondary value. Let me try to say this in another way. In this reflection, we shall contemplate a higher reality before which life becomes a subservient, a secondary or subsidiary value, or better put, to which, life takes on an auxiliary role. We shall also consider some circumstances when life loses primacy and may as well forfeit its inviolability. Yet we hold that, in both situations described above, this is only permissible and possible, if it serves to gain life, true life; or to preserve life, to defend life.
Ii. Jesus’ Teaching on the Price Of’ Life
In the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Jesus put a crucial question to his disciples: “What can a man give in exchange for his life?” This question is the second part of Matthew 16:26. It is the rephrasing of the more direct question “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” Jesus put these two questions to his disciples in response to the dissuasion from Peter to Jesus himself, asking him not to allow himself to be crucified and to die on the cross. Peter was aware of the absolute value of earthly life, but perhaps did not yet know that there is a higher life, before which the present life forfeits its primacy and prelacy and becomes only an auxiliary factor. That higher life is what I would like to call ‘life itself’; and by this I would be referring to the ‘true life’. This ‘true life’ is the ultimate life. It is the ‘life afterlife’, the life of heaven. Holy Scriptures call it ‘eternal life’, because it is a life that is both everlasting and transcendental.
Meanwhile, let’s take a closer look at the imports and implications of the verse of Matthew 16:26 in relations to the ordinary primacy of earthly life and the superior value of eternal life. The question reads: “What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” I would like to use this same question to accentuate both the primacy of earthly life and the supremacy of supernatural life. When Jesus asks the question: what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? He indicates to us that all possible human accomplishments, all earthly treasures, would not worth the value of life itself, either earthly or heavenly. When he asks: what shall a man give in return for his life? He indicates that life - the natural life and the supernatural life, - are simply priceless. No material price or prize can purchase life.
Furthermore, these assertions from the Teacher himself, have deeper implications and indications. They possess a higher dimension of meaning. Whereas the assertions can be used to show the primal value of earthly life, Jesus was not just talking about earthly life. He was referring primarily to a ‘higher’ life’ which earthly is only a mirror. This is the true life, the life of the soul in God and with God. The true life is that life which not only lasts forever, but is also devoid of all manner of imperfection; it is devoid of sin and seduction, it is devoid of suffering and sorrow, it is devoid of death and disease, it is devoid of decay and depreciation, it is also devoid of any lack or longing. It is the perfection of the abundant life. When one loses it, it can be said that he has lost everything. This is because only in this life can true riches, real beauty and every good thing be found. This is the true life. It is that life which is higher than earthly life. Sacred Scripture speaks of this life, when it talks about the ‘love that is greater than life’. (Ps. 63:3)
Iii. Life Itself: That Which Is More Than Life
There is indeed something that is more than life. There is something before which earthly life loses it primacy. There is something whose value is far above all earthly considerations, including earthly life itself. It is the love of God. It is the friendship of God. It is the life lived in God. It is eternal life. It is the life afterlife. It is the life hereafter. Nothing else is worth its value. Nothing can be given in exchange for it. Should one gain everything except it, such one has lost everything. Such one would be a wretched and miserable one, because without it, nothing else has real value. This life is Life Itself, because from it issues all life. This life is the originator of all creation (Rev. 3:14) This life is a person. This life is God Himself, from whom all things proceeded, both of heaven and of the earth. This life is the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 14:16) “Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.” (Jn.1:3; see also 1Cor. 8:6; Hb. 1:2; 11:3) Both the things in heaven and the things on earth, both the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or the dominions or the rulers or the authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He was before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col. 1:16-17) This Life itself is the only thing more important than life.
Iv. Questions for the Men of the 21st Century
The questions regarding the primacy of life, which Jesus put before his disciples, are crucial interrogatives for our times. In fact, they seem most fitting for the men and women of the 21st century than those of any other epoch. Answering these questions are crucial for all of us who live in a world with an obvious crisis of values; a world where most Christians prioritize prosperity and profit; where most Muslims prioritize power and control; where atheists prioritize success and accomplishments; and where most youths prioritize pleasure and fun; over and above life itself, which alone possesses both supremacy and ‘ultimacy’. The answer to these questions: “What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Mt. 16:23); are pertinent for a world whose standards have become pure materialistic ascendancy and its aggrandizement; therefore, whose tools have become pragmatism and expediency; and whose measures have become sheer utility and temporal ephemeral profit.
Amidst a world filled with myriads of material ‘delicacies’ and transient ‘treasures’, Jesus is asking us to think, search and see if we can find anything more precious than our very earthly life and something more sublime than it supernatural dimension. Jesus wants us to examine and see if there is such a thing, so great, so good, so glorious, that a person would rather take it, in place of his own life, and more so, in place of the transcendent life. Note that, when Jesus talk about life here, he is referring to eternal life. That is the life of the soul. Our earthly life, the life of the body, is a gift, more precious than gold; yet it is nothing in comparison to our heavenly life, the life of the soul. Men and women today, need to awaken to the reality that in spite of the seeming ‘goodies’ we find around, there is no true joy, no true peace, no true love, no real beauty, no real life, in the present sphere of existence.
V. The Primacy Of Life And The Ethical Controversies Of Today
Following the same principle of the primacy of life above all else, again it stands to reason that the only thing more important than life is life. This is to say that, it is only on account of life, that life can sometimes be forfeited. No other reason or situation is can be fitting enough to warrant harm to another life, save for the preservation of life itself in the right conditions of such actions.
Vi. Concluding Remarks
Dearly in Christ, there is nothing more important than life, than eternal life, than that life which unites us to God. There is nothing more important than that life that gives ‘life’, that guarantees everlasting life. Today we are reminded that: for the sake of eternal life, we should be willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus. For the sake of eternal life, we should be willing to follow Jesus to Jerusalem and to die with him. This is because:, whoever loses his earthly life for the sake of Christ, will surely find it and will gain it. But whoever keeps his earthly life, pricing it above God’s law, and so lose Jesus, will lose everything, at the end. HAPPY SUNDAY EVERYONE!
Michael Richmond Duru
Sunday, 30 August 2020
© 2022 Michael Richmond Duru