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Fr. Michael's Thoughts on Biblical Imagery: NKRABEA


(Fr Michael Boakye Yeboah: Vice Rector of St Gregory Seminary, Kumasi-Ghana)


            After the Christmas day festivities, I decided to reflect on Sunday’s readings for the Feast of Holy Family. The first reading caught my attention. I tried to contextualized the story of Abraham and Sarah within Asante concept of nkrabea (destiny that cannot be changed). The Asante of Ghana has a rich philosophical orientation and their theological reflections are awesome.

            Let me share with you one of the theological reflections of the Asantes of Ghana that may be linked with the story of Abraham and Sarah. Every Asante takes a name from the day of the week on which he or she is born. This name indicates both the sex and day of birth of the baby. It is called kradin (the farewell name). The belief is that before a person comes to the mother to be conceived, he or she says goodbye (kra) to Onyame (God) and Onyame tells him what to do in the world. This is nkrabea (destiny that cannot be changed). The child also can tell God what he wants to do when he comes into his world. This is hyebre. In life, the good traits of a person, which he cannot change even when he knows he is being taken for granted, are attributed to the nkrabea. The bad traits that a person cannot change, even when he knows they are evil, are attributed to the hyebre. The Asante Christian trusts that his faith in Jesus Christ will maintain his nkrabea and change his hyebre if it can lead him to damnation.

            When one analyzes the story of Abraham and Sarah, one is tempted to think that Abraham may have been caught in a dilemma of whether events his life should be ascribed to his nkrabea or his hyebre. He and his wife were growing old so they may have thought that the promise of the Lord will not come to pass. Why do I make this assertion? Biologically speaking Abraham’s body had become reproductively dead, Sarah also probably infertile and as a result Abraham made his chief household servant his heir. Then God alters destiny. Both parents become fruitful, and the son of the promise, Isaac, is to be a pure gift of God.

            At every point in your life, one should remember that God is the only one who can alter one’s destiny. My analysis on nkrabea still has twists and turns. After altering the destiny of Abraham, God makes another demand of Abraham. This creates openness of thought; what is God doing? But such openness is widened to the point of humanly unbearable incomprehensibility when God tests Abraham by asking him to return the son of the promise. God has attached his promises to this son’s potency, to his potential descendants – numberless “as the stars of heaven”. The people of Israel always retold this episode as one of the most important in their history. God intervenes in the very family he had miraculously founded, and he shatters it. From man’s perspective God has obviously contradicted himself, but because it is God who is contradicting himself, Abraham obeys and prepares himself to give back to God the most precious gift he gave him. The second reading gives Sarah a role as well. The family that owes its existence to God now becomes not merely an open family but indeed a bleeding one.

            The event that founded the people of Israel finds its final fulfillment in the Holy Family, which the Gospel depicts for us in the temple. God does not make Joseph, the last patriarch, physically fruitful but he reaches the highest level of human fruitfulness by stepping aside to let God’s unique generative potency hold sway. Joseph’s personal offering is buried in a scarcely noticeable liturgical act – the two doves, the offering of a poor man. And the mother’s sacrifice, her total surrender to God, is covered by the veil of the prescribed purification ritual. Then comes the prophecy that defines the inner shape of this family. On the one hand, the towering significance of the Child being presented reveals that this family will open up to spread far beyond its earthly limits. On the other hand, the sword that will pierce the mother’s soul means that she will be included in the Child’s greater destiny – that I would like to think is Mary’s nkrabea. Not only must she let go of her child and thereby offer him up, but she herself will be drawn into the offering when her child’s time of sacrifice arrives. Thus, the old family of flesh and blood will find completion in the new spiritual family in which Mary, penetrated by the sword, once more becomes the Mother of many.


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