Advice for Bongani Mafu

Bongani Mafu
Bongani Mafu

AT the weekend I suffered the agony of watching my favourite local football team, Highlanders, suffer a narrow 1-2 derby defeat at the hands of Chicken Inn at Barbourfields Stadium and while deep in my pain at Highlanders’ fourth defeat of the season I remembered what coach Bongani Mafu allegedly said some two or so months ago, following another defeat. In his post-match comments, Mafu was quoted as saying even Jesus Christ could not coach Highlanders FC to success. Really!

By Phusumana Omuhle

Growing up in the high density of Mzilikazi suburb in Bulawayo in the 80s there were three things which were regarded as sacrosanct. That is, untouchable. These were someone’s wife,mother, and Highlanders FC, then Matabeleland Highlanders. Perhaps this explains why Highlanders fans have always been hard to please.

For Highlanders is and has always been the icon for people in Matabeleland. And of late the only icon, the only thing left they can be proud of.In the last few years Highlanders as a team has not performed to the expectations of its multitude of supporters.

The recent peaceful demonstration at the club house after the defeat by Chapungu FC, hitherto winless, was a signal of how discontented the Highlanders family is.

It is,however, the comment by Mafu following the Chapungu debacle which I find alarming, and maybe requiring that Mafu swallows his pride and retracts the unwise comments for I feel they have cast a spell of bad luck on the team. Mafu having said “even Jesus cannot coach Highlanders with this kind of friction.

Our fans are so impatient but in a way one can understand them”. (Chronicle, February 14 2015) The name of God, both in the Old and New Testaments in the Holy Bible, is sacrosanct. It is for this reason that I find it mind boggling to think that Mafu would want to be remembered for such an indiscreet statement.

In the Old Testament the most important name of God in Judaism is the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God. This name is first mentioned in the book of Genesis and is usually translated as “the Lord”. Because Jews have for a long period of time considered it blasphemy to pronounce, the correct pronunciation of this name has been forgotten — the original Hebrew texts only included consonants. Modern scholars conjecture that it was pronounced “Yahweh”.

The Hebrew letters are named Yod-Heh-Waw-Heh, note that Hebrew is written from right to left, rather than left to right as in English. In English it is written as YHWH, YHVH, depending on the transliteration convention used.

According to Jewish tradition, in appearance, YHWH is the third person singular imperfect of the verb “to be”, meaning, therefore, “God is,” or “God will be” or, perhaps, “God lives”. This explanation agrees with the meaning of the name given in Exodus 3:14, where God is represented as speaking, and hence as using the first person — “I am”.The meaning would, therefore, be “He who is self-existing,

self-sufficient,” or, more concretely, “He who lives,“ the abstract conception of pure existence being foreign to classical Hebrew thought. It stems from the Hebrew conception of monotheism that God exists by Himself, the uncreated Creator who doesn’t depend on anything or anyone else; therefore, I am who I am. The idea of ‘life’ has been traditionally connected with the name YHWH from medieval times.

God is presented as a living God, as contrasted with the lifeless Gods of the heathen: God is presented as the source and author of life (compare 1 Kings 18; Isaiah 41:26–29, 44:6–20; Jeremiah 10:10, 14; Genesis 2:7; and so forth).

The name YHWH is often reconstructed as Yahweh in the English language. All modern denominations of Judaism teach that the four letter name of God, YHWH, is forbidden to be uttered except by the High Priest, in the Temple. Since the Temple in Jerusalem no longer exists, this name is never said in religious rituals by Jews.

Orthodox and Conservative Jews never pronounce it for any reason. Some non-Orthodox (but religious) Jews are willing to pronounce it, but for educational purposes only, and never in casual conversation or in prayer. Instead of pronouncing YHWH during prayer, Jews say Adonai. Of importance to note, however, is that Jewish law requires that secondary rules be placed around the primary law, to reduce the chance that the main law will be broken.

As such, it is common Jewish practice to restrict the use of the word Adonai to prayer only. In conversation, many Jewish people will call God “HaShem”, which is Hebrew for “the Name” (this appears in Leviticus 24:11). Many Jews extend this prohibition to some of the other names of God, and will add additional sounds to alter the pronunciation of a name when using it outside of a liturgical context, such as kel or elokim.

Many Jews also write “G-d” instead of “God”. While this last substitution is by no means required by religious law, it is done to remind the reader of the holiness attached to God’s name.The name of God is thus, Holy and it is the reason why it is included in the Decalogue You shall not take the Lord name in Vain.

In The New Testament Christians have attached theological significance to the name of Jesus from the earliest days of Christianity. Devotions to and feasts for the Holy Name of Jesus exist both in Eastern and Western Christianity.The devotions and venerations to the name Jesus also extend to the IHS monogram, derived from the Greek word for Jesus.

The significance of the name of Jesus in the New Testament is underscored by the fact that in his Nativity account Matthew pays more attention to the name of the child and its theological implications than the actual birth event itself.Reverence for the name of Jesus is emphasised by Saint Paul in Philippians 2:10 where he states: “That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.”

The use of the name of Jesus in petitions is stressed in John 16:23 when Jesus states: “If you ask the Father anything in my name he will give it you.” Many Christian prayers thus conclude with the words: “Through Our Lord Jesus Christ”.There is widespread belief among Christians that the name Jesus is not merely a sequence of identifying symbols but includes intrinsic divine power, and that where the name of Jesus is spoken or displayed the power of Jesus can be called upon.

It is against this background that I am wondering whether the dear coach would want to be reminisced with such a statement.

History is littered with people who despised the name of God to their demise. Think of the story of the Titanic. The Titanic, once known as the ‘unsinkable ship’ collided with an iceberg and sank south of New found land on its maiden voyage. Days before its first voyage, a White Star Line employee boasted, ‘God himself could not sink the ship’.

The wreck’s final resting place remained a mystery until 1985 when oceanographer Bob Ballard found remains of the Titanic more than three kilometres deep down in utter darkness. While human arrogance appears to be the best reason for the Titanic’s end, others point to the Bible and the employee who said “God himself could not sink the ship”. The sentiment of the indiscreet comment was shared equally among the Titanic’s owners, crew and passengers.

Could this widely held “unsinkable claim” by so many produce a direct challenge to God’s sovereignty? Did not Jesus say, “…Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God (Luke 4:12).” Does not all wrath belong to the Lord God (Romans 12:19)?

While divine wrath is one possibility, I share the same sentiments with Jim Allen who says that God did not sink the Titanic. God is today (as he was then) operating in grace and truth through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). Yes, God knew about the employee’s comment and the sentiment shared by so many. God knew the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), allowing arrogant and imprudent men to plot their own course to destruction (Proverbs 16:25).

God knew the Titanic would be ripped in half by its own weight and sink to the bottom. God knew the Titanic would eventually dissolve into nothing more than a rusty stain on the ocean floor. But it all depends which school of thought you subscribe to.Think of the Beatles, a very famous musical group in the 60s who remarked that they were “more popular than Jesus” or “Bigger than Jesus”.

This controversial remark was made by the Beatles’ John Lennon in 1966. Lennon said that Christianity was in decline and that the Beatles had become more popular than Jesus Christ. The comment drew no controversy when originally published in the United Kingdom, but angry reactions flared up in Christian communities when it was republished in the United States five months later.

Lennon had originally made the remark in March 1966 during an interview with the London Evening Standard, which drew no public reaction. When Datebook, a US teen magazine, quoted Lennon’s comments in August, five months later, extensive protests broke out in the southern United States. Some radio stations stopped playing Beatles songs, their records were publicly burned, press conferences were cancelled, and threats were made. The controversy coincided with the group’s US tour in August 1966, and Lennon and Brian Epstein attempted to quell the dispute at a series of Press conferences.

Some tour events experienced disruption and intimidation, including a picketing by the Ku Klux Klan. The controversy contributed to the Beatles’ lack of interest in public live performances, and the US tour was the last they undertook, after which they became a studio-only band. Little is known about Beatles now nor are their songs yet Christianity has grown to be a world religion.

Perhaps Mafu uttered his remarks as emphasis but is Mafu sure he wants to go down history books with such an indiscreet statement? Food for thought! As for Phusumana, the name of God remains sacrosanct and it cannot be taken in vain.

Phusumana Omuhle is a local Catholic priest who is an avid supporter of Highlanders FC. He writes in his personal capacity and not that of the Catholic Church.