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Hear the Sound of Silence: The Story of John


By Canon Francis Omondi

      Doing God’s will may lead to a tragic end. Not the end you would desire. But that is not ALL, since God must fulfil his will in his world.

Mark 6:19-26 tells the story of John the Baptist being beheaded while in prison. Reading this narrative of John’s last days, one gets swallowed in the two most conspicuous aspects of the narrative:

Herode’s and Herodias proclivities, abuse of power… And the brutal execution, through beheading, of John the Baptist. These twin towers overshadow the nuances, and the gist of the narrative. John’s turmoil and agony in prison. In silence.

Herod silenced John in prison. That is why the Sound of Silence ought to be heard. I borrow this title from Music by Paul Simon (1964) The Sound Of Silence:

And in the naked light I saw: Ten thousand people, maybe more: People talking without speaking: People hearing without listening: People writing songs that voices never share: No one dare: Disturb the sound of silence.

Commentators have well articulated the reason for his imprisonment. I should not belabour that. But I will revisit it to reinforce his agony.

John had rebuked Herod Antipas for his blatant sin. Herod divorce of his wife, to marry his brothers’, Philip, wife- Herodias. This was a nasty act, in that some suggest it was like incest, breaking a Jewish law of Leviticus. But what irritated Herod was that John spoke in public about his sin. John also talked of this sin in private. He never stopped referring to the ill of their leader. This irked Herodias, who questioned John’s audacity, courage to question the king.   

John was reputed in Israel for his courage. Although his work among the people was popular, leading many to repent and find their way back to God. here was an obstinate Herod who was not only was evil but had power and evil courage. With his immense power, Herod imprisoned John to silence him. Yet in feared the people. For a riot in Galilee would have ended his rule. Herod knew how the Jews revered John. As a righteous and holy man.

Photo by Cameron Casey on

While in prison, his disciples, his confidence in God’s call, and God himself abandoned him:

1.    His disciples abandon him

For this hour he had to face alone… John the Baptist was alone in prison without his disciples. The soldiers were not afraid to obey the order to kill him. Paul, having fulfilled his mission, says only Luke is with me and everyone has left him (2 Timothy 4:10-11).

2. The confidence in his calling abandoned him.

John began questioning himself. Had he fulfilled his calling? What was it?

Here, John sought to confirm his call. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ (Luke 7:27) 

He sought Jesus’ reassurance:

So, John called two of his disciples and sent them to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’”(Luke 7:18-21)

In his response, Jesus wanted John to listen to the sound of silence. Not the voice in scriptures but in the ordinary day-to-day life of the Kingdom:

At that very time, Jesus cured many people of diseases, sicknesses, and evil spirits, and granted sight to many who were blind.So, he answered them, “Go tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news proclaimed to them. Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Luke 7:21-23)

Again in Paul Simon words:- v.5

And the people bowed and prayed: To the neon god they made: And the sign flashed out its warning: In the words that it was forming: And the sign said “The words of the prophets: Are written on subway walls: And tenement halls: And whispered in the sounds of silence”

It is possible, under pressure, to doubt one’s calling. The calling of God doesn’t get to us with a bang. We hear it in whispers, sounds of silence… that are only heard by those who hear it. The voice was meant for these ears. 

John’s example was to go to Jesus. He was called by Jesus to look out for the ordinary day-to-day life, where God is dealing with humanity.

Seeing and hearing God’s work among humans should allow us to situate ourselves in God’s grand plan. In the middle of pain, we get fulfillment in seeing God’s intervention in human life.

3.    John abandoned by God:

When you are in God’s will, why then does He disappear?

An enormous sense of abandonment griped John about God’s silence and abandoning him. John had done what God wanted him to do. He did what was right. With courage, he had spoken against injustice, had rebuked Herodias for marrying Herod Antipas.

John’s hour of trial came after Salome, the daughter of Herodias, danced and asked for the head of John the Baptist. Herod offered her half the kingdom; or whatever she dreamt about. Why would she want a man’s head on a platter? What she asked for was not what she really wanted. Salome did not know what she was saying. But when she spoke, she was speaking in strange tongues. She gained her mother’s language of treachery and revenge. In helping people in the communities, we insert our wishes and present them as though these were theirs’s. An aid worker said, “Why put my words in the mouth of people when it’s my own gain?” 

John’s head was chopped off and God did not prevent it. Nor did God respond. 

If one may think that God picked on John, One must read the scriptures deeply to see how God treats those he has called into this prophetic ministry. John was not the only one who experienced it.

Soon, Jesus will have to face a worse kind of abandonment. Jesus Himself, having done what God wanted, is abandoned by God on the cross, and cries out, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani.” (Mark 15:34)  

The tragedy in the book of Job is that he did everything God expected of him. What he was afraid of just happened to him. He was righteous, but disaster hit him, and hit him hard. But God was silent. Job then tries to reach out to God to ask him why. 

Why that when we have done well, does God suddenly disappear?   

The hope that we had of fulfilling God’s work hits us and we ask, “Did I do right or wrong? Was I deceived?” There is a feeling of being deceived. Jeremiah prayed, “You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived.” (Jeremiah 20:7). He had clearly explained to the people the disaster that was coming, but God did not change His mind even in response to sincere prayers. God does not draw near to His disciple, but leaves him in a vacuum.

Where was God in Auschwitz, during the Naiz’s?

In the affliction of the Jews during the Nazi regime, many lost the sense of faith in God. For they asked where was God in the gas chamber?

“In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.” Isaiah 63:9 ESV

Perhaps you may feel that God does not affirm you. And there is no one to share our burdens with.

It hurts when you haven’t accomplished the thing that made you leave home. You may ask:

 Is God’s will still guide us? Is God with us? 

You will feel the sense of abandonment, but it is not yet over. When we have done God’s work and then He abandons us, only God can find us, he comes to us in resurrection. 

It is not how we survive… we do not have power. It is possible that we are already sinking out. You are earning your marks you will soon display before God. What has God asked of you? What have you done with what you were given? What did you do with it?

South African author Alan Paton wrote a story about a school principal in Soweto, where the 1976 uprising began.

The principal was a gentle guy, not controversial, not one who goes to protests. He had friends in the white community because he didn’t talk politics at their tea parties. He was reasonable.

One day, the whites saw him sitting on a stage at a rally. Then the next time they saw him and he spoke at the rally. Then he was in the front, leading the march.

And they said to him, “What has happened to you? We depended on you! Now you are making things worse.”

He responded to them: One day I will die and the Great Judge in heaven will ask me, “where are your wounds?” And I will have to say, “I don’t have any.” And when I say, “I don’t have any,” the Great Judge will say to me, “Was there then nothing to fight for?”

Where are your wounds? You must work for the kingdom.

“I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater98 than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he is.”(Luke 7:28)

The least in the kingdom bears the mark of struggle for the Kingdom. They have wounds.


We need anger and courage.

Anger or holy rage on seeing what is happening to humanity and being disturbed by it. And courage to be reckless in acting to solve these ills.

But I would say- courage. No, even that is not challenging enough to be the whole truth. Our task today is recklessness. For what we Christians lack, a holy rage- the recklessness which comes from the knowledge of God and humanity… a holy anger about the things that are wrong in the world….

To rage at the lie that calls the threat of death and the strategy of destruction peace. To rage against complacency. To restlessly seek that recklessness that will challenge and seek to change human history until it conforms to the norms of the kingdom of God.

And remember, the signs of the Christian Church have been the Lion, the Lamb, the Dove and the Fish… but never the chameleon.” Kaj Munk, a Danish priest, spoke these words before the Gestapo killed him in 1944.

 In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! AMEN.


Rev. Canon Francis Omondi is a Priest of All Saints Cathedral Diocese of the ACK, a Canon of the All-Saints Kampala Cathedral of the Church of Uganda, Adjunct Lecturer at St. Paul’s University, Limuru, and Research Tutor at the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life.


Kenyan Christians can opt for Cremation

Canon Francis Omondi


Every time a prominent Kenyan Christian is cremated instead of being buried,3

a debate ensues among Kenyan Christians on the best ways of disposing of

their dead. The real contestation is on whether Christianity sanctions


The attitude of Christians has not shifted to favor cremation, despite the

reforms churches have made on their funeral policies. For example, the

Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) adopted changes to accept cremations as a

way of disposing of the dead in 1999 (ACK, Special Provincial Synod 2000, Min

3.9). But when Manasses Kuria, ACK’s second Archbishop, cremated the body

of his wife Mrs. Mary Nyambura Kuria in 2002 astonished Christians

disapproved of his action. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) had

relaxed her position on cremation for their followers following Vatican II.

This article examines the debate about whether Christianity sanctions

cremation. First, it explains the historical development of burial as a church

practice adopted by most Christians in Kenya and highlights various customary

African norms for disposing of the dead. Second, it examines incidences of

cremations in Kenya, explaining why Christians are taking up this practice.

Third, it sets up a critical correlation of the findings in the second step, with

the normative traditions of the Kenyan Christians. Fourth, it applies

the empirical data and theological discourse to offer a theory for action which

revises the present praxis. It adduces theological grounds that allow Christians

to accept cremation as another way of disposing of their dead.

Although the Churches have pronounced themselves on cremation as an

acceptable alternative means of disposing of the dead, many Christians remain

reticent to switch to cremation from burial. This article has addressed the

reason for Christian reluctance by answering the objections raised against

cremation. This study was not a biblical response to cremation. Instead it

focused on presenting a theological response to the belief challenges facing

Christian disposing of their dead. I have, in this article, established a

theologically informed course of action, an action that removes the inhibition

of Christians in Kenya to cremation as a way of disposing of the dead,

consistent with the existing traditions of Christian faith and African customs.

This article exposes salient aspects surrounding cremation, establishing that it

does not offend Christian dogma, nor does it assault African customs.

In offering a plan for action to revise the present praxis, this study has

proposed a way forward for Kenyan Christians, having established that

Cremation offers Christians a valid and acceptable alternative to traditional


See the full article here:

But the Lord is in his holy temple (Habakkuk 2:20).

But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him (Habakkuk 2:20). GARISSA TERRORIST ATTACKS IN 2020

The intensity of Al-Shabab attacks in the region along the Kenya Somali border and Garissa is terrifying. The shooting of 3 teachers on Monday 13th January in Garissa has left us worried. This was not the first time Christian teachers were killed by Al-Shabaab in the area. But the increased frequency and the plain helplessness to stop the attacks are concerning. And it sticks out as a cruel reminder of the danger and venerability we are exposed to. Apart from God, we are on our own.  

The intensity of the Al-Shabaab offensive in this region is frightening. A week into the new year, we have had 3 terrorist attacks that have left 10 fatalities (not counting the dead insurgents). 

 Al-Shabaab militants attacked a bus in the Nyongoro area, Lamu County, on Thursday 2 January, with three people losing their lives in the incident. Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers killed four suspected Al-Shabab fighters and captured one following the attack.

What caught our attention was the pre-dawn raid in Lamu on 5th January. KDF Spokesperson Col Paul Njuguna said, that around 5.30 am al-Shabaab attempted to breach security at Manda Air Strip, but they successfully repulsed the attempted breach. There were damages done to the aircraft but KDF reports that the airstrip is safe. 

Two days later, on January 7th, the Al-Shabaab terrorist made another pre-dawn attack in Dadaab of Garissa County, killing four people. Area Deputy Commissioner Kibet Bowen said they killed four Somali locals including a teacher in an exchange of fire. The terrorist though shot dead four children in Saretho village, near Garissa. The Somali children were boarders and they had been housed in teachers’ houses. They shot at them thinking they were Christian teachers, only to realize they were mistaken. On realizing their mistake, the al-Shabaab got in to bandage some of the wounded children. According to the Police, the attackers had also targeted telecommunication masts in the area. Later, the police killed two of the terrorists and recovered two AK47 rifles and two Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) from the slain men.

The terrorists focused their gaze on Garissa town’s Bulla Iftin area. We got to School (GAP) on Friday 10th of January to the news that our school was in imminent danger of attack by the Al-Shabaab terrorists. The Safaricom communication mast in the school compound was a perfect match for their pattern of attack, besides those at the school. But this was the plot was foiled as it became public knowledge and needed security measures taken.  

It appears that the terrorists shifted their gaze on Kamuthe 30 Km away from Garissa Town. The attack at Kamuthe primary school occurred Monday 13th at around 2 am, where according to the police, the terrorists attacked Kamuthe primary school, Kamuthe Police Post, a telecommunications mast and murdered 3 teachers, and burned the police station in their wake.  

This attack affected us as well. The majority of teachers at Kamuthe primary in the northeastern region of Kenya, come from the Christian parts of the country. They were therefore accommodated in staff waters at the compound. There were seven staff members and family in this school compound residential unit. These included six teachers; five male (one living with the wife) and one female, and the seventh was a female nurse serving at the dispensary.  

During the attack, they killed 3 teachers: Caleb Mutangia Mushindi (28years), Titus Sasieka Mushindi (29years), and Samwel Mutua (29years). But Joshua Mutua (30 years) survived although he suffered 2 gunshot wounds on his lower leg and is undergoing treatment at Garissa general hospital. But Mr. Robert Kivuti (53 years), one of the teachers, escaped into the night. climbed a tree escaping the notice of the terrorist and stayed there most of the night. Meanwhile, his wife also survived for she hid under the bed all this time. 

Mr. Titus Mushindi, killed in this incident, is the husband of Ruth Mushindi, a teacher at GAP. And he is a cousin to Caleb also killed in this incident. Titus was a Keyboard player during the Sunday worship of 12th January at St. Peters ACK Garissa, where he is a faithful member. He would have traveled to his station early Monday morning, as he had done often. But this time, the Headteacher demanded his presence at the school Monday morning. The Headteacher was scheduled to be way taking his daughter to a school outside the region. So, Titus had to travel to Kamuthe that Sunday afternoon. 

Titus feared for his security, because of the heightened attacks, he, therefore, requested prayers for safety from the praise and worship members. He left Garissa town at 4 pm using public transport and arrived that evening. At 11 pm he spoke on phone to his wife Ruth at Garissa Academy and his son Baraka wishing them good night. The terrorists woke him up at 1 pm to face their death. Even with odds against them, Titus met death as he attempted to resist the attackers. 

Mr. Samuel Mutua Kamba had graduated from Garissa University. He had survived the Garissa University terror attack of 2 April 2015 that left 149 students dead and many injured. He did not escape this time.   

In a curious move that night, the terrorist spared the female teacher and the nurse with her infant child. They made the nurse recite the Shahada and confess Islam, and she obliged. She was then marched to the dispensary where they looted the medicine available and items they deemed of value.

As the terrorist left, they sprayed the house of the headteacher with bullets in frustration of not finding him.  

 The existence of a police-post nearby did not deter the attack, nor did it repulse terror. It did not matter, for the police at Kamuthe police-post, must have heard the gunshots that killed the teachers and fled abandoning their station. The terrorists burnt down the police post before bombing the telecommunication mast in the market. Police have since identified the mastermind of the attack as Maulid Bilal, who is wanted for leading attacks in the Fafi and Hulugho regions. 

We appeal to the security agents to double their efforts and devise appropriate security strategies to protect Christians and local Somalis in the region. The terror attacks have now paralyzed education services to the local population, for all schools apart from those in Garissa town are closed. 

The eye of the storm is on us. We mourn in grief for our departed brothers. We are concerned about how we must live in this tension. We contemplate what future may be ours. May God make us more aware of his presence with us.

Please pray with us: 

          Strengthen the weary hands, make firm the feeble knees. 

                                       Say to the anxious:

 Be strong, fear not, your God is coming with judgment. Coming with judgment to save you.

          The ransomed of the Lord shall return and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Canon Omondi (15 January 2020)

Njau’s Speaking Murals: The Last Supper.

Elimo Njau’s last supper mural, (in Murang’a Murals by Harold F Miller).

The Last supper scene is one of 10 the most important murals on the walls of St. James’ All Martyrs Memorial Cathedral in Murang’a. 

The picture depicts Jesus, at home in Murang’a, using an old spoon, a ciihiru to serve his disciples, admonishing us the onlookers of a remote event without which our faith would be in utter disaster. It shows to the credibility of faith, founded articulated in this proclamation: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. This is the theological and liturgical account of this mural.

The portrait is a testimony of history. It communicates to us stories of other followers of Christ. Those who made the story presented here their own. They drew it in their blood, tears, fears, and sweat, African and black. For they took their spot on the Lord’s table as Christian A’gikuyu, disregarding the Mau Mau oath administers who demanded confession that they were “Agikuyu karing’a”. 

We recognize faces Njau engraved on the murals covering walls of the St James Cathedral.  Among them was Rehab Ngendo, who opposed her tormentors… “I have drunk the Blood of Christ and how can I return to drink your goats’ blood?” They hoisted her up by the neck, but the Mau Mau oath she would not take. What about William Macharia who in 1954 refused to take the Mau Mau oath. They buried him to the neck. No amount of intimidation would persuade Macharia’s wife to take the oath and spare him. She belonged to Gaturume (lamb- Jesus). 

They hallowed this ground for us, they dedicated this Cathedral for us. They gave this place its name, ‘Martyrs Memorial Cathedral’. These are people we knew, or we may know about, for their testimony filled our nation. 

 As Anglicans assemble in this space Sunday after Sunday, our fears and the seductions of our times may blur the martyr’s message. The message Rev. John Gatu got, when he led Christians to dismiss the Gatundu oaths of 1969. 

The mural warns us that last supper is incongruous to all others. The martyrs are signalling us to value the ‘gaturume’ over the blood of goats. Can Christians, priests and Bishops take part in the practices of athuri a kĩama kia mbũri, administer in bloody ngurarios and irua ceremonies and minister the Lord’s table? I pray we are found true to the Lamb’s table.

The murals depict the tombstones of martyrs, hundreds, and thousands, who met their death with utmost cruelty: they inscribed their names on the plaques at the exits of All Martyrs (St. James) Cathedral, Murang‘a, for they were not afraid to die and go to God (Roberts 1954:15-33).

The entire Anglican Church of Kenya needs to gather in this Cathedral. Perhaps here the martyrs voices will be clearer that we belong to the triumphant Lamb. For: “we have died together, we will rise together, we will rise together.

Canon Omondi

Will Justice Martha Koome deliver Justice?

By Francis Omondi 

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         Lady Justice Martha Koome’s appointment as our Chief Justice causes me angst. It wrings hope yet wrenches something in my gut. Her reputation for human rights is without peer and without question. Yet her confession at the JSC interview showed a bent to support the government. I wonder which of her two pasts will define her reign. William Faulkner, in Requiem for a nun, warned, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past”. 

      There is Koome activist past. The legendary past as the chairperson of the Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya (FIDA). Koome, who from 2001 led civil rights organisations in securing women participation in the constitutional review. She frightened the Moi era regime. The government deemed her ideas dangerous in their battle. She pushed for children and women’s laws. Sought the release for people locked on trump up charges, whose rights the regime violated. It is inexplicable that they did not lock her in as well. That possibility frightened her… But not anymore.  

      Justice Koome hasn’t fought the government in a while. No sooner had she become a judge, than she jettisoned activism. In her own words, at the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) interview, her work at FIDA was situational. As a judge, she said “I have changed completely….” She said, “I am government, as the Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya… I head the other part of government.” This is her immediate past. And of this, many are anxious. 

         Writing on race equality in America’s 1940s, Faulkner’s message, was that some day, the people will rise above these divisions and will recognize the ties that bind all. They will recognize the fundamental lie of racism. But the protagonist fails that test, with his very Southern attitudes and bigotries. Hence, the past is never dead. For Justice Koome, which of these pasts is past?

         Our main worry is something that her 18 years’ duty as a judge has revealed. Petitioning the JSC to reject Koome’snomination, the President of Law Society of Kenya, Nelson Havi argued, her appointment will weaken the independence of the judiciary.  Havi cites the questionable Saturday night sitting of the Court of Appeal, in the Republic v IEBC Khalef Khalifa and another (2017) eKLR. During which Hon Justice (rtd.) E.M. Githinji, Hon. Justice Fatuma Sichale and Hon. Justice M.K. Koome delivered a judgement Ex-parte (done in interest of one side only), a final order reversing the entire judgement of the high court earlier that morning. 

          Holding an open court, heard ex-parte undermined justice, whatever urgent reason there was. Besides, sitting outside working hours without being authorised by the embattled Chief Justice strengthened the “systems pliable” narrative. It eroded the public confidence in the judiciary’s independence. That the Supreme Court affirming their ruling did not remove this stain.

        If Justice Koome is to deliver justice, she will have to regain her due north, i.e. that human rights past. Upholding justice must not be situational madam Chief Justice. Justice is about equal rights, and access for those being squeezed out.  

        Justice delivery ought to commence within the Judiciary.

 While interviewing Justice Koome, Commissioner Everlyn Olwande spoke for the Judges and magistrates. She spoke out of their fears using piercing allegory and questions. Is the judiciary hurtling fast towards another purge? The signal has always been claiming corruption in the judiciary. There was the radical surgery under Justice Aaron Ringera, or Judicial Vetting that saw another swath of judges evicted, these didn’t clean the perception. 

         In 2019, the state shifted its was on graft war on the judiciary. The Chief Public Prosecutor, Noordin Mohamed Haji, started a drifting charge against the Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu, that she “abused her office for personal gain, undermining public integrity in the judiciary”. Haji claimed he had conjured enough evidence for “a reasonable prospect of conviction.” He so instituted a criminal proceeding against her in public interest.

        The case raised a critical constitutional conundrum. They charged the DCJ on suspicion of corruption, failure to pay taxes and improper dealings with a local bank. How can “a commercial transaction between her and a private institution”, amount to a criminal offence? This justice, Chacha determined.

      But observers saw through the scheme. If they did not forge the case to force JSC to eject her from office, then it is a guise of the promised “we shall revisit”. This, in my view, was the veiled fear in Commissioner Olwande’s questions. It will be tragic if the Chief Justice cede her power to the government. She stated: “No, no, my question is, is there any other structures that can stop the Chief Justice from abusing power?” 

       The thin hope the judiciary must hang on is Justice Koome’s statement, “An institution like the Judiciary should be self-cleansing… and that from within and should be not from without.” This should “ring-fence the independence of the judges, the judges’ decision making and the institution” she said. 

       Chief Justice Koome’s major challenge will be delivery of Justice to Kenyans. With compromised legislature and executive working on its own agenda, the Judiciary, as the custodian of law, remains the guard rail holding Kenya from tumbling into the precipice of chaos. 

          Governments have a propensity to oppress. Uhuru Kenyatta’s government isn’t unique in its little regard for the citizens justice. Justice Koome inherits a justice department the regime has battered to pulp with a punitive budget cut in the Judiciary, disregard of courts’ authority, and derisive rhetoric. How else can we explain the Presidents’ delay in appointing the 41 judges, the JSC recommended mid-2019? This delay, Justice Maraga complained, made work difficult for the courts. Makokha Kwamchetsi considers president’s agenda was to diminish the stature of the Judiciary. (

         I appeal to Chief Justice Koome’s faith to make the judiciary work for Kenyans. An episode in Exodus one demands our attention, since it was a turning point in human history. Its heroines are Shifra and Puah, two outstanding women. The midwives Pharaoh instructed: “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live” (Exodus 1: 16). But they would not carry out the order: “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live”(1:17). 

        Commenting on the episode, Rabbi Jonathan Sack termed it as “the first recorded instance in history of civil disobedience”. The two women refused to obey their world’s most powerful man’s order. The order they judgedunethical and inhuman. To Pharaoh’s questioning, they explained: “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive” (1: 19). Pharaoh had no reply. 

        In refusing to follow the orders, Shifra and Puah showed that ultimate Sovereignty belongs to God. A notion that sovereignty belongs to the people is fallacy. No. The state and people who put it in power can err. Rabbi Jonathan Sack argues that moral law transcends and may override the law of the state. 

         Kenyans expect independence of the Judges, and freedom for the judiciary officers to act in interest of justice and not to protect power. Explanation such as, in IEBC v Khalef Khalif case, excuse of being empaneled and acting on public interests won’t hold.

          During the 1946 Nuremburg trials, the war criminals’ plea was “… they were merely obeying orders, given by a duly constituted and democratically elected government”. But for a new legal concept of crime against humanity, the holocaust’s perpetrators guilt would have remained unestablished. Which Sacks comments: “The Nuremberg principle gave legal substance to what the midwives instinctively understood, that there are orders that should not be obeyed, because they are immoral.” So, any human order transgressing the will of God is by that fact alone ultra vires. Shifra and Puah are the first to teach humanity the moral limits of power. 

        We are a country, it seems, bankrupt of goodness. A space filled with evil we commit to each other. A good judiciary, without our cooperation in shunning evil against others, will become as useless as a scarecrow after harvest. We ought to do good because that’s what a human being is supposed to do.

           It has confounded me how attractive evil is to others. We give undue attention to evils’ whisper or shouts. Not that evil does not demand confrontation, but I wonder why it is so elevated. The formula in which evil reigns is bad versus good. Toni Morrison, the 1993 Nobel Prize winner for literature, noted that “Evil has a blockbuster audience; Goodness lurks backstage. Evil has vivid speech; Goodness bites its tongue.”

         To understand goodness for humanity, Toni explored the term altruism, the other, rather selfless compassion for the “other.” In her research, she learned something about altruism, weight, its urgency, and its relevance in contemporary thought. What defined goodness for her was a curious incident in the Amish community of Pa. USA. On Oct. 2, 2006, Charles C. Roberts 32, arrived at the West nickel Mines Amish school and ordered the male students to leave. He allowed a pregnant woman and three women with babies to leave. Roberts lined up 10 girls, ages 9 to 13, and shot them, killing five girls and injured five others. Then killed himself.

          Although Roberts was not Amish, the community forgave him, refused to seek justice, demand vengeance, or even to judge him. They visited and comforted his widow and children, just as they embraced the relatives of the slain. The Amish are averse to any killing of human beings. In refusing to judge Robert, the Amish community asserted, it was God’s place to judge. They said nothing or very little to outside inquiry. Held no press conferences and submitted to no television interviews. But only cautioned when saying, “Do not think evil of this man.” They buried their dead, then attended the killer’s funeral the following day. Then built a new schoolhouse, having torn down the old one. 

         Their silence following the slaughter, along with their deep concern for the killer’s family, seemed to Toni at the time characteristic of genuine “goodness” or altruism. And she became fascinated with the term and its definition.

          Toni Morrison identified three definitions of altruism. Altruism is not an instinctive act of selflessness, but a taught and learned one. It might be an ego enhancing in a desperate wish to decrease self-loathing as well. While others argued, altruism as an embedded gene firing to enable the sacrifice of oneself for the help of others. Such sacrifice for kin and/or community is innate, they claim. And is built into our genes, just as we hold individual conquest of others to be an instinctive drive that serves evolution. 

       This goodness we can learn. We can be taught goodness until it becomes a habit of helping strangers and/or taking risks for them at our expense. This should override the Goodness as instinct, because of genetics inclining us to protect our own kin or group such that what we seek for our group extends to all the people we meet. The unquestioning compassion to support not just kin but of members of the group.

        Mr. Justice John Khamoni (rtd) learnt this goodness. As a result, the Law Society of Kenya in 1999 awarded him distinguished service in administration of justice. Award which the then Chief Justice barred him from receiving. And in 2015 he received the 3rd Justice  C.B. Madan Prize 2015, for his contribution in justice administration (Walter Khobe The Platform No. 13/14 Dec/Jan 2015/2016 p. 36-39). In my view, he is an example of altruism in the judiciary.

             Two of Justice Khamoni’s acts of goodness were done at significant risk to his carrier in the judiciary. For instance, in November 1991, at the peak of the movement for multi-party reform, the police arrested leaders of the famous proscribed Kamukunji meeting at Nairobi and charged in different centers in the country. The magistrate had refused the bail applications for James Orengo and Luke Obok. This case, therefore, reached the High Court in Kisumu before the newly appointed Judge, Mr. Justice Khamoni. In that charged atmosphere, Khamoni considered the application on legal principles of the grant and refusal of bail, and in an unimpeached ruling, He granted both applicants bail. 

           While in 1996, Justice Khamoni issued orders of prohibiting oppressive criminal proceedings by the state to punish opponents in settling civil cases. In Republic v Jared Benson Kangwana, Nairobi High Court Misc. Application No 446 0f 1995. Kangwana filed application praying for orders of judicial review. The court faced an application that continued criminal prosecution amounts to a travesty of justice. While Khamoni affirmed the AG’s unfettered discretion to institute and undertake criminal proceedings, he qualified the discretion, arguing that they should exercise it in a quasi-judicial way and not contrary to public policy. Insisting that the state must strain be extra alert to make sure that criminal proceedings are not used to settle civil disputes. Justice Khamoni rejected any party starting criminal proceedings to cajole an opponent to submit to judgement. Khamoni opposed the invocation of the law in unsuitable circumstances for wrong ends. 

         Justice Khamoni’s vision for a criminal justice system was one averse to oppression. He held that the high court had a duty to prevent vexatious and oppressive prosecutions, instituted for an improper purpose, mala fide, hence an abuse of the court. The two nurses acted like good people. So did Justice Khamoni, and that in quiet. By their act we learn to “feared God”, a generic description of those who have a moral sense.

            Have we wondered why Hon. Amos Wako changed during his 20 years as Kenya’s Attorney General? He served as LSK chairman from 1979 to 1981. And was a member of the UN Human Rights Committee between 1985 and 1992. The honour we paid him and the owe in which we held him reached beyond Kenya to places far away and in countries where the intelligence of Africans is the source of much amusement. Thinking he would check the Nyayo era excesses turned into a futile dream. As head of the state law office, and over saw torcher and suppression of Kenyans agitating for multi-party rule. He watched the wanton human right abuses without a wimp. Although to his credit, Kenya achieved multi-party rule and change of constitution during his tenure. But the KANU government tethered him to the Goldenberg scandal, a long-running corruption scandal his entire time as Attorney General. Which led to his sanction by the USA government. 

         The government is a toxic soil. This is something insightful we now know. Something we didn’t know at the beginning. This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers, to borrow the words of Claudia at the end of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye”. Certain seeds this soil will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear. Will Chief Justice Koome thrive in this soil?

         When we say the past is just a prologue, we mean the past should not enslave us, rather we spring into bright day from lessons we learnt from that dark past. Prologue because we follow a path blazed by leaders such as Shifra and Puah. 

Rev. Canon Francis Omondi, A priest in the Anglican Church of Kenya, All Saints Cathedral Diocese Nairobi. He is an Adjunct Lecturer St. Paul’s University Limuru.  

Inequalities and not hustler nation euphoria is Kenya’s bane

By Canon Francis Omondi

Stifling the “hustler” vs “dynasty” debate will not save us from the imminent implosion resulting from Kenya’s obscene inequalities. While the debate is a welcome distraction from our frequent divisive tribal politics, leaders in government and society are frightened that it might lead to class wars. Our sustained subtle, yet brazen, war against the poor has made class conflict inevitable. If only we had listened to Hon. J. M. Kariuki, the assassinated former Member of Parliament for Nyandarua (1969-1975), and provided the poor with the means to develop themselves, perhaps the prospect of revolt would now be remote.  

Could this be the angry ghost of J.M. Kariuki coming back to haunt us? Listen to his voice still crying from the grave, as did his supporters at a rally in 1974: “We do not want a Kenya of ten millionaires and ten million beggars. Our people who died in the forests died with a handful of soil in their right hands, believing they had fallen in a noble struggle to regain our land . . . But we are being carried away by selfishness and greed. Unless something is done now, the land question will be answered by bloodshed” (quoted by Prof. Simiyu Wandibba in his book J.M. Kariuki). Fired by this speech, his followers set ablaze 700 acres of wheat on Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s farm in Rongai and slaughtered cattle with malice. Thus did J.M. invite his death. 

What Hon. William Ruto propounds in his hustler vs dynasty debate is a shrewd way of redefining Kenyan identity politics. Ruto is re-directing the political narrative from the “us” vs “them” of tribalism, to one characterised by the poor and desperate (hustlers) who have seen subsequent governments betray their hopes for a better life, pitted against “them”, Ruto’s rivals, the offspring of politicians born to unfair and unearned privilege. 

Hon. William Ruto’s hustler vs dynasty narrative is a shrewd way of redefining Kenyan identity politics in order to avoid playing the tribal card in his quest for the presidency.

Wycliffe Muga, the Star newspaper columnist, has eloquently described them as the “sons of a hereditary political elite who absorbed all the benefits that came with independence, leaving ‘the rest of us’ destitute and having no choice but to beg for the crumbs under their table.” By opting for an alternative approach, Ruto hopes to avoid playing the tribal card to attain the presidency. For, besides his own, he would need support from at least one other of the five big tribes who often reserve support for their own sons unless there is a brokered alliance. But even then, the underlying logic of Kenyan politics remains that of identity politics, which creates a binary narrative of “us” against “them”.  

Meanwhile, Ruto has not only radicalised the poor, but he has also hastened the country’s hour of reckoning, a judgement for the years of neglect of the poor, and this may ignite the tinder sooner we imagine.

In their article in The Elephant, Dauti Kahura and Akoko Akech observe that, “Ruto might have belatedly discovered the great socio-economic divide between the walala-hoi and the walala-hai in Kenya”. Ruto has galvanized the poor and their plight around the banner of the “hustler nation”, a nation aspiring to erase the tribal or geographical lines that have kept Kenyans apart. As a result the poor are restless as they compare their state with the ease of the lives of the affluent. But Ruto is not organising to awaken class-consciousness among the exploited.  ‘As Thandika Mkandawire, citing Karl Marx, observed, “The existence of class may portend class struggles, but it does not automatically trigger them. It is not enough that classes exist in themselves, they must also be for themselves”’, Kahura and Akech further reiterate.   

The problem kicks in immediately he points to the “dynasty”. In juxtaposing the hustlers and dynasty, the poor find a target of hate, an object of their wrath. This situation can easily slide into violence, the violence emerging only when the “us” see themselves as all good and the “them” as all evil. 

I worry this controversy had led us to that radicalisation stage, where the poor see themselves as good children of light fighting against evil forces of darkness. In our case, the so-called hustler nation believe they are against the deep-state, which cares less about them, but wants to give their dues the “dynasty”. This collusion between deep-state and dynasty is preventing them from reaching prosperity. So, acting in self-respect, they deflect their situation to those who they perceive as the cause of their wretchedness. Interestingly, the colonial state always feared the day when the masses would rise up and topple it. Unfortunately, Ruto is using the crisis of the underclass created by the colonial state and perpetuated by the political class for his own self-advancement and political expediency. 

By declaring himself the saviour of the hustlers from the dynasties, Ruto — who is devoid of any pro-democracy and pro-suffering citizens political credentials — is perceived to be antagonising the Kenyatta family’s political and financial interests. He has with precision stoked the anger of the poor against particular political elites he calls dynasties and the Odingas, the Kenyattas, the Mois and their associates have become the hustler nation’s enemy. So, one understands why President Uhuru Kenyatta considers Ruto’s dynasty vs hustler debate “a divisive and a major threat to the country’s security”, which Kenyatta fears may degenerate into class warfare.

Hon. Paul Koinange, Chairman of the Parliamentary Administration and Security Committee errs in his call to criminalise the hustler vs dynasty narrative. If this is hate speech, as Koinange wants it classified, then neglect of the poor by their government is a worse form of hate speech. The application of policies favouring tender-preneurs at the expense of the majority poor, landless and unemployed will incite Kenyans against each other faster than the hustler vs dynasty narrative. The failure to provide public services for the poor and the spiralling wealth of the political class must be confronted. 

We have been speeding down this slippery slope for years. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data ( the 2020 the  Economic Survey in Nairobi on April 28, 2020 you published it in the Elephant). released in December 2020, only 2.92 million Kenyans work in the formal sector, of which 1.34 million or 45.9 per cent earn less than KSh30,000. If we accept that the informal sector employs another 15 million Kenyans, an overwhelming majority —71 per cent — would be in micro-scale enterprises or in small-scale enterprises which make up 26 per cent. This implies that 97 per cent of our enterprises are micro or small, and these are easily wound up. The situation is exasperated by the opulence at the top. The UK-based New World Wealth survey (2014) conducted over 5 years, painted a grim picture of wealth distribution in Kenya. Of the country’s 43.1 million people then, 46 per cent lived below the poverty line, surviving on less than Sh172 ($2) a day. This report showed that nearly two-thirds of Kenya’s Sh4.3 trillion ($50 billion) economy is controlled by a tiny clique of 8,300 super-wealthy individuals, highlighting the huge inequality between the rich and the poor. Without a clear understanding of these disparities, it is difficult to evaluate the currents that are conducive to the widening of this gap not to mention those that would bridge it. Hon. Koinange should be bothered to address these inequalities the masses are awakening to than the hustler narrative. Our government must be intentional in levelling the playing field, or live in perpetual fear like the British colonials who feared mass revolt across imaginary ethnic lines.   

Our government must be intentional in levelling the playing field, or live in perpetual fear like the British colonials who feared mass revolt across imaginary ethnic lines.   

In Kenya past injustices yielded gross inequalities, for which Okello and Gitau, in Reading on inequality in Kenya: Sectoral Dynamics and Perceptions, illustrated how state power is still being used to perpetuate differences in the sharing of political and economic welfare. Okello further observed that: “In a country where for a long time economic and political power was/has been heavily partisan, where the state appropriated for itself the role of being the agency for development, and where politics is highly ethnicised, the hypothesis of unequal treatment has been so easy to build.”

This, not euphoria from the “hustler nation”, is the tinder that is about to explode. The horizontal manifestation of inequality stemming from failure of state institutions or policies that have continued to fester inequalities, is what should be a concern to the state. How can the government not see the risk such extreme economic disparities within the population pose for the nation’s stability? 

Canon Francis Omondi, is a priest of All Saints Cathedral Diocese Nairobi, and an adjunct lecturer at St. Paul’s University Limuru. Views expressed here are his own.

This article was first published in The Elephant as

Can Kenya stop Bloody Elections?

By Canon Francis Omondi

We, the people, and our leaders are in terrible jeopardy. An ominous cloud hangs over us as the 2022 elections approach. The retiring Chief Justice David Maraga was perceptive when he warned of drumbeats of political war. His words gave me an eerie feeling, a Luo in an election year. How can we bring these bloody elections to an end? 

The Kenyan election cycle has become synonymous with bloodletting, which has disproportionately affected the Luo. The general election conjures up memories of 1969. The first parliament was ending in December and Kenya was to conduct the first post-independent general elections. Following the 1966 fall-out at the Limuru Convention, a frightened government  sought to hold on to power at all costs. This would not be easy. The opposition Kenya People’s Union (KPU) formed in 1966 presented them with a frightening threat. To make sure they kept power, Jomo Kenyatta sanctioned the now infamous oath-taking to forge the uthamaki ideology to keep the presidency within the Gikuyu oligarchy and mobilise the Gikuyu folk around this narrative, thus, binding the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru communities (GEMA) in a spiritual and political stronghold under KANU in an imaginary nation of Uthamakistan

On July 5th they gunned Tom Mboya down in broad daylight. Although Mboya was a KANU leader, according to David Goldsworthy in Tom Mboya: The man Kenya Wanted to Forget, he had to be eliminated because he posed a threat to the presidency. Killed by a bullet coated in the blood of the oath. Since we have been conditioned to understand politics through the prism of tribe,  Mboya’s assassination snapped the already loose cord that tied the Luo to the Kikuyu community after the fall-out of Jomo Kenyatta and Odinga Oginga in 1966 and the mass state-led propaganda Kenyatta and his cabal undertook to paint the Luo community to the Kikuyu as a backward and violent community. The resulting protests, against President Kenyatta at Mboya’s requiem mass marked the beginning of animosities that are still felt today.

Although Kenya has remained silent about Mboya’s murder, the effects endure to this day. As Yvonne Owuor, winner of the 2003 Caine Prize for African Writing, aptly observes, after Mboya’s death Kenya gained a third official language after English and Kiswahili: Silence. But I wonder what to expect when a train stops at a lakeside town in 2022. In 1969 — as in 2008 and 2017 the body bags from the lorries and the buses —  the train “offloaded men, women, and children. Displaced ghosts. In-between people. No one to blame. Most of the witnesses were dead. Others had vowed themselves to eternal silence. This was the same as death,” in the words of Yvonne.

After Mboya’s death, the events in Kisumu on 25 October 1969 exacerbated the despair among the Luo. Jomo Kenyatta had come to open Nyanza Provincial General Hospital which had been built with aid from Russia. Although Odinga was not invited, he arrived in force, for with Russia’s help he had started the project. In the ensuing commotion, the presidential escort and the paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU), shot their way through the crowd, killing many and not stopping the shooting for 25 kilometres outside the town.  

If Mboya died, then everything that could die in Kenya did. Including school children standing in front of a hospital the head of the nation had come to open, Yvonne lamented. The events emptied central province of a people they now called cockroaches, nyamu cia ruguru (beasts from the west). Who spoke of this exile, or of the souls evicted from our world? 

The provincial security apparatus had warned people to stay away from Kisumu because of the protests following the brazen assassination of Tom Mboya, but as political scientist Akoko Akech asks, “And why did the presidential security shoot children, children in Awasi, some 50km away from the hospital?

The killings were framed as animosity between the Luo and Kikuyu communities, but they were not. It was a group in power using government machinery to crush a perceived enemy. The Luo were not fighting Kikuyu people in the outright violence that broke out as a large crowd menaced Kenyatta’s security. The security forces killed indiscriminately, hence the « Kisumu massacre ». While the official body count was 11, historians close to the event such as B.A. Ogot put the numbers at 100 people dead. The school pupils along the road at Awasi had come out to sing praises to their president whose security sent them to their graves in silence.  

The people were silenced, the records expunged, and the photographic and film evidence of the event destroyed, and we would not have seen the devastation were it not for the often-reproduced single monochromatic photograph of the chaotic scene by taken Mohammed Amin, and Satwant Matharoo’s film footage that was shown to the British audience by the WTN. Even the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) removed the oral eyewitness accounts and memoranda from its last report on the colonial and post-independence massacres. The now official record is an extract from the unofficial Report of the Commission on Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation.

In his book Exclusion and Embrace, Prof. Miroslav Volf captures the experience of the Luo people best when he avers, “We demonise and bestialise not because we do not know better, but because we refuse to know what is manifest and choose to know what serves our interests.” Hence, the proscription of KPU made Kenya a de facto single party state and established a pan-ethnic nationalism. The government accused KPU of being subversive, stirring up inter-ethnic strife, and accepting foreign money to promote anti-national activities, which included the building of the aptly named Russia Hospital that the president had come to open. Having demonised Nyanza Province, it was easy to exclude her from « national » development plans.  

Unless we confront this past murders like that of the election official, Chris Musando in 2017, will recur. Kenyan police have a long history of using excessive force against protesters, especially among the Luo in western Kenya. Of the over 1,100 people killed during the 2007 post-election violence, over 400 were shot by police in the Nyanza region. In 2013, according to Human Rights Watch, police killed at least five demonstrators in Kisumu who were protesting a Supreme Court decision that affirmed Uhuru Kenyatta’s election as president. And in June 2016 police killed at least five and wounded another 60 demonstrators in Kisumu, Homabay, and Siaya counties. The state acknowledging these crimes and making public apologies to the Luo will, in my view, end the continued violence against the community.

It is the duty of the current Kenyan state to reach out to the Luo community for the killings since 1969. If we can trace the records of  Nazi Germany atrocities during World War II, why can’t we do the same in Kenya? Why hasn’t any government felt the duty to at least apologise or acknowledge the trauma?

In December 1970, during a state visit to Poland which coincided with a commemoration of the Jewish victims of the Warsaw Ghetto, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt spontaneously dropped to his knees. Although he uttered no word during his Kneifall von Warschau, his Warsaw Genuflection, Brandt later wrote in his autobiography that upon “carrying the burden of the millions who were murdered, I did what people do when words fail them”. The Kenyan government should do to the Luo what Germany’s leaders did to the Jewish victims of the Nazis.

In 2011 German leaders again expressed deep remorse for the suffering their nation had inflicted on Poland and the rest of Europe during World War II. “I bow in mourning to the suffering of the victims,” German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said  at a ceremony in Warsaw. “I ask for forgiveness for Germany’s historical debt. I affirm our lasting responsibility,” the statesman said, calling the war a “painful legacy”. Where are the presidents of Kenya who have expressed such remorse?

Even if no one does, we remember. As long as it is remembered, the past is not just the past; it remains an aspect of the present. A remembered wound is an experienced wound. Toni Morrison was right when she says in Beloved that, “Deep wounds from the past can so much pain our present that, the future becomes a matter of keeping the past at bay”. Without apologies, the crimes are bound to recur and our wounds to remain uncovered.  

I am terrified by the state’s silence, the wishing away of the crimes and the failure to reach out to the Luo community. While President Steinmeier has called WW II a “German crime” that his nation will never forget, Kenya’s leaders are quiet and want Kisumu forgotten. How can the Luo people forgive crimes no one owns? How can the scar they bear be concealed ? I fear that without acknowledgment, ownership and apology, we cannot build any lasting bridges. 

Canon Francis Omondi, is a priest of All Saints Cathedral Diocese Nairobi, and an adjunct lecturer at St. Paul’s University Limuru. Views expressed here are his own.

The article was first published in The Elephant read it here:

Finding the Saviour

GOOD NEWS & CONVERSATIONS With Canon Francis Omondi 

Simeon finds  Jesus (Luke 2:29-38)

25 A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.27 Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area. Meanwhile, Jesus’ parents brought the child to the temple so that they could do what was customary under the Law. 28 Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,

33 His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”

Anna’s response to Jesus

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years. 37 She was now an 84-year-old widow. She never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Epiphany Collect:

O God, Who by the leading of  a star manifested your son to the peoples of the earth: lead us, who know you now by faith, to your glory face to face: through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

We will discuss a pertinent question of time, Where and how to find the Saviour? We draw lessons from the Gospel account of St. Luke 2:25-38, where we learn how  Simeon finds Jesus.

           Simeon, a devout and just man in Jerusalem, waited with fellow Jews for years, for the saviour to console of Israel. They embodied this consolation, the prophets of old spoke about, in the Messiah. Since the prophets’ word always came true, they waited.

         Scholars mention Simeon was among those embroiled in the argument regarding the accuracy of the Isaiah 7:14 text: Whereas the Hebrew Bible reads, “…a young woman shall bear a son…”, the  Greek translation, Septuagint read, “… a virgin shall conceive and bear a son…” Simeon sided with the Septuagint translation, But beyond this, the Holy Spirit impressed on him, he would not die before the fulfilment of this prophesy. He grew old and old, but kept waiting for the saviour to come. 

            On this day, a day like any other, the Holy Spirit nudged him to dash to the temple. For It was the day the prophets spoke about. Yet the temple was its usual self. Nothing unusual. Beggars lined up the walls from gate to gate, seeking alms. The poor and sick wanting for divine intervention. People milling in and out of the temple. Sinners in penitence offering sacrifices. The impure being cleansed. And Couples presenting sons. Also there were Merchants trading wares in the temple yard, while Gentiles observing from a distance. A day like any other. but Busy for priests.

        This was also the day Mary and Joseph came to present Jesus and perform their purification rites. Two turtle doves were sufficient for the law and affordable for them. With their son presented and Mary purified, they got ready, for the long journey back. The context forced them to be mum about their special child. At any rate, they had fulfilled righteousness. God wanted it that way. So, they sneaked, I mean slipped, out into obscurity unannounced and unnoticed to raise Jesus in strict observance of the Law, though he transcended the Law.

           But, while making out, down on the steps in the temple courts, old Simeon stopped them. Simeon begged to hold their baby. No sooner had he taken baby Jesus in his arms, than he belted the now sacred Nunc Dimittis: 

29 “ Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
30  because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and a glory for your people Israel.”

     In this praise, Simeon calls the child Jesus “your salvation” (v.30). i. e. God’s salvation. It was A coincident of sorts, since Jesus’ Hebrew name, Yeshua, means, “salvation.” Simeon says, “my eyes have seen your salvation….” for he saw the child named “Salvation”. That was the moment Anna joined in, and praised God as well. She invited the messiah waiting people scattered  in the temple crowds to join in and rejoice. These waiting people also looked forward to the comfort of Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be freed from the Roman oppression, they believed. The craving for the messiah caused angst in the people, demonstrated in the frequent revolts, which the Roman terror sifted through, eliminating all claimants.

           Meanwhile, the Messiah of Israel, whom they had waited for, was being celebrated at a side event within the temple precincts. It was an insignificant function, not in the temple order of events, and conducted by out-layers. In such obscurity, “the Consolation of Israel”,  appears. He is appearing when times were hard in Jerusalem. And it must have been the hardest of times to be a Jew. But for Simeon , Anna and the waiting people, it was an epiphany moment.  It is epiphany, when you suddenly  feel that you understand, or become conscious of something very important to you. They had discovered their saviour.  

           The good news  Luke is telling us that God returns in disguise as an infant. Fulfilling the word of the prophet Malachi, “the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.”

       Addressing Mary,  Simeon projected the kind ministry of the saviour would have. He said this child will lead to the fall and rise of many in Israel. The fall because his ministry will stumble many. He will bring down those who thought were up.  And How people respond to him and his message will determine their destiny. Many of Jesus’ contemporaries received his message, but the religious community could not bring themselves to believe that Jesus can be God’s Messiah. For them, Jesus became “a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall” (Luke 20:17-18).  

Jesus will disdain the oppressive human structures, whether religious, political or cultural. Structures that keep people down and excluded. The rise because, he will bring in, those relegated to the margins of the society. For he will without limit include those locked out. He wields the authority to invite whoever he  calls. 

          And Because of Jesus’ unorthodox approach, Simeon said,  many will speak against him. Jesus’ down-up, and out-center approach upset the established structures. Even though Jesus is God’s sign to his people, they will reject him. He will be “The stone the builders rejected …” Because he will expose the hidden agenda of world’s cartels, and lay bare their guise of religion. Best of all, Jesus will un-earthen human limitation of who God is …and what we have said about him, that he isn’t.  Those who stumble at Jesus, who reject him and oppose his message, will be exposed. For Jesus as the messiah will judge the world “This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:16).

              Remarkably, Simeon sees Jesus’ salvation as extending to all people, including the Gentiles. This is the same message the angel spoke to the shepherds on Christmas night: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (LK. 2:10).  The concept of the Messiah and Israel being “a light for the Gentiles” was first developed by the Prophet Isaiah: “ I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” ( Isaiah 49:6)

This has now found fulfilment in this child Simeon holds…

       In his statement, Simeon is setting the stage for the Magi’s visit. Which occurs soon  after this event in the Temple. For the Gentiles, though without Scriptures to guide, used horoscope and their stars reading skills to know about the new King, to locate where this king is ….and to believe that this is their King as well. This is what, we have in the Church tradition, we have called, the epiphany of the Gentiles. That is why this week we celebrate the Christian holiday commemorating the first manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi.

         Israel could not cage Jesus, the Gentiles made claim to the child king born to the Jews. And the Magi found something of theirs in him and something of him in them. For He was their king as well.

          I concur with Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright, who in his book, How God Became King, underscores:  the point of the gospels is not to proclaim Jesus is divine, as if he were some Greek god in human skin. He writes, “….in the events concerning Jesus of Nazareth, the God of Israel has become king of the universe.” (:38) Wright further  ponders,  “Suppose this isn’t a story about a man going about ‘proving that he’s God,’ but about God coming back in person to rescue his people?” (:93) “ 

The gospels offer us not so much a different kind of human, but a different kind of God: – a God who, having made humans in his own image, will most naturally express himself in and as, that image-bearing creature. A God who, having made Israel to share and bear the pain and horror of the world, will most naturally express himself, in and as, that pain-bearing, horror-facing creature.” (:104) Wright concludes:  Through Jesus God is doing what the Bible says God is always doing: judging, forgiving, healing, and transforming those God loves into a people who can recognize God, not Caesar, is King.  This God, and King  is among us human. Emanuel.

           The Christians’ central affirmation is that God became human. Not a generalized humanity — he became human under particular conditions of time and space. Thus affirming all cultural traditions.  “Cultural diversity was built into the Christian faith with that first monumental decision by the Council in Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15, “Argues Prof. Andrew Walls, “ which declared that the new Gentile Christians didn’t have to enter Jewish religious culture.” They didn’t have to receive circumcision and keep the law.

           This decision had enormous implication: For “up to that moment there was only one Christian lifestyle” and everybody knew it. Observes Walls,  the Lord himself had led the life of an observant Jew. The apostles continued that tradition. This was not to be with the new church.  The early church made the extraordinary decision not to continue the tribal model of the faith. Converts had to figure out what a Christian lifestyle looked like. They, guided by the Holy Spirit, had to develop the way of being Christian.

 If the church had made the opposite decision, we would not have needed much of the material in the Epistles. Walls explain this:  “St. Paul had to discuss with the Corinthians what to do “ if a pagan friend invites you to dinner and you’re not sure whether they had offered the meat in sacrifice the day before.” Such was not the apostles’ problem. They did not need to be eating with pagans. For observant Jews don’t table with pagans. 

           We also affirm that Christ is formed in people, following Paul’s words that he is in travail “until Christ be formed in you.”   Because, when people come to Christ, Christ transforms their lives taking a new social form. In seeking the saviour, we need to look beyond the feast of Epiphany celebrations, or the Clergy or church program. We may not find the saviour in ordinary Christians. Waiting hearts will find Jesus in simple lives and on the edge of society. 

The Times magazine of  December 27, 2008 ran a story by the famous British journalist Matthew Parris. It is an irony that an atheist, Matthew, confessed his belief that Africa needed God. “Missionaries, not aid money,” he said, “ would solve Africa’s biggest problem – the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset,”  Matthew was in Malawi after 45 years, to see the work of Pump Aid, an NGO helping rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep the village wells sealed and clean.  The Times Christmas Appeal had included this small British charity working Malawi. which Mr. Parris conceded inspired him, renewing his flagging faith in development charities:

“But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too,” he said “one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my worldview, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.”

He discerned the unique contribution of Christian evangelism as distinct from secular NGOs, governmental projects, and international aid efforts. Matthew observed: “In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.” Until this visit, he applauded the practical work of mission churches in Africa as humanitarian…  and that Faith supported the missionary, but he now acknowledges “…that salvation is part of the package,” 

The fact he notes that “Faith does more than support the missionary; but  it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which He could  not help observing. This time in Malawi it was not the same. Matthew narrates: 

I met no missionaries. You do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians. “Privately” because the charity is entirely secular, and I never heard any of its team so much as mention religion while working in the villages. But I picked up the Christian references in our conversations. One, I saw, was studying a devotional textbook in the car. One, on Sunday, went off to church at dawn for a two-hour service. It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was influenced by a conception of man’s place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.

But Parris warns: “Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. We must supplant an entire belief system.” He Concludes, “And I’m afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.”

Parris sees the saviour in the lives of the Christian aid workers. He sees the kingdom of God in the transforming work of the missionaries. Though, like Jesus, the Christian Work is spoken against, the evidence stands out. 

So, where  will our epiphany happen?

It is the Holy Spirit who revealed the saviour to Simeon, and  to praying and fasting Anna, and the waiting faithful Jews on the margin of their society. He too, will reveal him to us. Our epiphany will occur away from the center,  out on the edges. Paul showed that when Christ is formed in humankind, others will find the saviour in our lives. Our epiphany will occur in ordinary lives of those who live up to the injunction of our saviour. If we seek the manifestation of the saviour today… we must seek him among the poor. 

Jesus lives among the poor. He is with those who suffer hunger because they have not been at work. Jesus is with the sick who have no healthcare. He is with those violently oppressed and made poor by corrupt state policies. These poor are victims of direct and indirect state brutality. The devastating impact of COVID-19 has exposed the façade, and we can’t hide our violence on the poor. We have an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, as we have often shown in times of crisis. 

While they are waiting for Jesus to meet their needs, Jesus among them is waiting for us to act in his name. Helping the invisible poor will bring us face to face with the saviour.  

In the name of the father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 Canon Francis Omondi is a priest in the All Saints Cathedral Diocese Nairobi. He is an Adjunct lecture at St. Paul’s University, Limuru. 

God Knows … in the Year 2021

We stand at the gate of 2021 battered. Our sails torn to shreds in the storms of 2020.  

Corona virus showed us things, as we rise from that darkness of 2020. 

But are wiser today than then. We know it can get darker still. This we did at the turn of 2020. In Kenya the taxman has sharpened his sickle, for the debts are due.

With measured hope and stretched out hand help, let us share the mysterious-sounding words by Minnie Haskins (1875-1957) for God Knows:  

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied, “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.”

May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.

So I went forth,

And finding the hand of God,

Trod gladly into the night.

He led me towards the hills

And the breaking of day in the lone east.

So heart be still!

What need our human life to know

If God hath comprehension?

In all the dizzy strife of things,

Both high and low, God hideth his intention.

God knows. His will Is best.

The stretch of years

Which wind ahead, so dim

To our imperfect vision,

Are clear to God. Our fears

Are premature. In Him

All time hath full provision.

Then rest; until

God moves to lift the veil

From our impatient eyes,

When, as the sweeter features

Of life’s stern face we hail,

Fair beyond all surmise,

God’s thought around His creatures

Our minds shall fill.[1]

In 2020, God held us in his grip, he will yet hold us again in 2021. This is his promise:  “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil; for thou art with me… (Psalm 23:4)

Canon Francis Omondi

[1] They came from a poem of hers called “God Knows”, in a collection, The Desert, published in 1908.  

   Let it be… 

          The crisis occasioned by the global pandemic has intruded into our 2020 Advent season. Our anticipation in hope this year is in far more than usual. For Advent is a period of waiting in hope and expectation of the coming Kingdom. Mary in her song in Luke 1:46-52 cf invites us to this wait. 

Mary could not have sang the Magnifcat before yielding to the Angelic commission. The Angel Gabriel appeared to her, announcing that she would be with a son, a unique son, son of God Most High… who would be the long waited messiah. Then, there, and to them, Angels were integral part of their ontology. Angels appeared and disappeared as the air we breathe. Not as dumb and obscure, rather invisible as today’s Angeles is. Otherwise, we would understand why Mary, Elizabeth, Zachariah, Joseph and the Jews believed.     

Mary said, “Let it be!”

Hidden act of God in the Magnificat is in Mary’s concluding line: “He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.” The survival prospects of Israel under the terror Rome was grim. No rebellion from within, no deal with Caesars brought relief to them. The prophets, true, were seeing a grimmer future still. Hence the news of a savior born of her womb… for which generations to come will call her blessed. 

She echoed, a song now common song for the religious in Israel, Hannah’s song. Hannah also concluded with a vision of a strong King in Israel, a God’s inverted social order, to include the excluded, the hungry and the left behind.

Nature exhibits many “evil” traits: storms, earthquakes, and other natural disasters cause incredible destruction; locusts, COVID-19 has killed many and, of course the impact of the pandemic.

How in this condition can we rejoice in the Lord through the crisis of our world?

Hannah refuses to blame evil, Satan or anyone else for the crisis, but saw God in it. She said,“The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up.” This position was not unusual, Rabbi Sacks, in his book Not in God’s Name, argues, monotheism is not an easy religion and cites Isa 45;7’ “I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil.” He questions, how can God, who is all good, create evil?  Is it not that the “bad” God does is in response to the bad we do?  Its Justice punishment and retribution. He invites us to see God as both Judge and father… embodiment of Justice and love.
If in our current crisis pushes us to ponder where is God, and why is God not intervening? It is in Hannah’s song, that we may be the confident: “For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, And He has set the world upon them.” The world won’t crush on us in our present crisis. 

        As long as God holds the world’s pillars, he will keep his promises to us. To know that God holds the entire world in his hands, gives us confidence that no pandemic, natural disasters, evil systems will stop Him from raising His people, to raise praises to Him. As the Magnifcat or Hannah’s song. 

But there are already signs of God at work in the world. Where is God’s hand in your life as we look towards the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory?

No one is holy like the Lord, For there is none besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God.

 Canon Francis Omondi.

Advent 2020

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