Many years ago, the Roman Empire was the world’s superpower, the hegemony of their time. They exerted their influence to territories (most of which were conquered) beyond ancient Rome. This ascendancy included ideological, socio-cultural, religious and economic norms. Some of their infamous military signatures for dissidents, criminals or others that had incurred the wrath of the incumbent emperor included being thrown into a lion’s den, gladiator fights in the amphitheatre or crucifixion.
Crucifixion was anything but a quick death, it was like taking the stairs to the top of the Eiffel Tower. It was designed to hurt and to pass a strong message to others. It came with scourging where the subject was beaten repeatedly with the Roman Cat of Nine Tails, a tortuous trip to the death-point whilst carrying a wooden cross. The now-naked subject’s arms and feet are thereafter pinned with industrial nails, given hours to die of asphyxiation or else the bones will be smashed with clubs to expedite the death. Today’s cross isn’t physical, it’s metaphorical.
The Cross of Identity and Origin
Messiahs struggle with acceptance across board. Most people will define you by your history and not your destiny. They will refuse to believe that you are a god even though you’re also human. One of the reasons people continuously talk you down is that they secretly hope that after a while, you will eventually believe their lies yourself. They will hardly ever describe you by your strengths but almost always by your weakness. This is because anyone that succeeds at determining your identity has invariably shaped your destiny. So they will double down on any narrative about you that can alter your trajectory.
You will face cancel culture because you’re not one of their favs. How many times have we seen someone being overlooked just because they didn’t tick certain populist boxes? These naysayers will choose to view every of your actions through the lens of gender, race, tribe, religion, socio-economic class or political ideology. They will pressure you into becoming a version of yourself they have in their heads if they are to embrace your counter-cultural message. Not surprisingly, messiahs are appreciated more by strangers than even by natives. If you don’t know who you are, you will bend over just to please the mob.
The Cross of Betrayal
E tu Brute? (And you, Brutus?) Williams Shakespeare was a master of the quill, easily one of the greatest of all time. In one of his literary classics, Julius Caesar, he tells a story of the main character, the eponymous protagonist who is attacked by senators with intent to kill him. Even when outnumbered, he bravely fought for his life until he spots his supposed dear friend, Marcus Brutus, amongst the lot. Having uttered those three immortal words, he drew his last breath – he could withstand the pain from the stabbing but not that of betrayal.
Betrayal is a very painful cross to carry, seeing people you trusted double-cross you without blinking. People can shoot you down from afar but they can only stab you at close range. They kiss you but it’s not for romance but to consummate a sell-out. They swear they will ride with you to the end but once the bread and fish supply stops, so also does the subscription of their loyalty. They sing Hosanna today and demand your head the very next day. One minute they call you a god, next minute, the same lips call you a murderer. Generally, those who will hurt you the most are those you love the most, messiahs get hit more by friendly fires than enemy assault. Doth not Brutus bootless kneel?
The Cross of Calumny
Even if you walk on water, they will say it’s because you cannot swim. They will push an agenda about you that will make you almost run mad. They claim to hate you but they are following you on all your socials, dropping hateful comments on every post, waiting for you to say something they can screenshot and throw a fit over. They will accuse you of trying to usurp constituted authority because you have a large following and refuse to sing their song. You will be accused of being sponsored by certain persons or even drawing your powers from dark sources.
If you ever get into a bad patch, they will say you saved others but you can’t save yourself. If you claim to have a panacea for an anomaly, they will question why you’re not living large from such knowledge. They will curse you publicly but hail you privately and vice versa. They will even use a person’s death to chase clout and try to rewrite a person’s story. They know the truth cannot be buried forever but they are always out to get you even when your legacy cannot be gotten. This cross is particularly a heavy one for messiahs to carry.
The Cross of Unthankfulness
You perform miracles all day, every day but when you need people to stand with you, they all go to their tents. They complain every day of bad leaders and then you decide to run for that same office, but on election day, they’ll turn around and say they want anyone but you, even if the alternative is someone they wouldn’t advise their enemy to hire. They say they want someone to speak up for justice but when you begin to probe certain matters, the same people ask you to switch off your mic. You pay people jumbo salaries to represent you but they call you a drug addict for daring to demand accountability.
You put your life on the line, risk everything just to fight for people who turn around and accuse you of impropriety. They claim to appreciate you but are triggered when you get your flowers, especially when others recognize and reward your sacrifices. They beg for votes but once in power, they will claim they can’t have your back because certain things are beyond their control – they will make talking to you seem as a privilege. Every day, you are torn between nonchalance and loving a system that doesn’t love you back. Being a messiah is a thankless job!
The Messiah Complex
Religion is a very strong influence on our side of the Atlantic and it filters into many aspects of our lives. We see leaders emerge with a desire to ‘save’ people, many of them fail. Not because they were incompetent but because they weren’t wired to carry that much weight on their shoulders alone. Our job is really to build systems that work with little or no personal intervention. A rule of law that actually protects the weak in society against the mighty, not one that requires ‘knowing someone’ to get justice. No person with a messianic attitude to leadership can ever get my vote going forward, you will have to show me receipts of how you built strong institutions.
We are and have limited resources, we can only do so much. We’re all mighty people but none of us is the almighty – so don’t assume the role of the messiah because you’re not one, you can’t drink of that cup. We don’t need anyone to fight for us, we need people to fight with us. We are the heroes we have been waiting for! MI Abaga, in his duet with Praiz, titled Epic puts it this way: “It’s really you! You’re the hope, you’re the change, you’re the miracle. You’re all the strength you need in times unbearable.”