Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lent Reflections: Condemned by the Righteous

Wow.  This last week’s study has been so convicting.  And very difficult.  I see myself in so many parts of this story – the overly righteous, so convinced that I am right; the quiet one standing by, knowing what is happening is wrong, yet not saying anything, just letting it happen around me; the rash, reacting one, following behind yet denying who I really am.

A lot of my thoughts are stuck on the Sanhedrin.  I know that I have been both  inside the Sanhedrin and standing outside of the Sanhedrin, calling them hypocrites, at various times in my life.  In the story, the Sanhedrin are the top 71 holy men of the time.  Probably at the top of the social ladder.  They had control; they could tax.  Caiaphas was the leader of the Sanhedrin and, most likely, his power was handed down to him from his father-in-law with Rome’s blessing.  I can imagine him bragging to the others of the times he has convinced Rome of something, or perhaps he spent time at Pilate’s – whether as part of a larger gathering or maybe they were friendly.  As friendly as a Roman and Jewish leader could be.  It was likely a relationship that was mutually beneficial.  Caiaphas could keep the Jews under control and gather more taxes for Rome and Pilate could look the other way as taxes were skimmed off the top.

Whatever the relationship, Caiaphas saw Jesus as a threat to his way of life.  Jesus was preaching change, a new kingdom and his reaction to the merchants in the temple was probably the last straw for Caiaphas.  Caiaphas and the others used Judas to arrest Jesus and had to have some sort of preplanning going on – how else do they gather all 71 members of the Sanhedrin in the middle of the night after the most important meal in the Jewish faith?  If the disciples couldn’t stay awake, how were they able to gather all of the members of the Sanhedrin so quickly? And the witnesses?  There was a mob of people at this trial and no Twitter or Facebook to make these arrangements at the last minute.

Fear is a powerful motivator and this story is filled with fear.  Fear can create an angry mob and people can easily fall into this mob even if they don’t agree with the direction the mob is taking.  It’s hard to believe that all 71 members of the Sanhedrin followed Caiaphas’ train of thought.  Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are part of the Jewish leaders: Nicodemus as a “leader of the Jews” (John 3:1) and Joseph is listed as a “respected member of the council” (Mark 15:43).  Were they at the trial?  We are told both were “secret” followers of Jesus.  If they were part of the 71, why didn’t they speak up?  How many times have I been that person?  The one who knew what was happening wasn’t right, yet didn’t say anything, who sat by and fought the urge to speak up?

And then there’s Peter.  Peter, the hotheaded one, who loved Jesus so, yet denied knowing him 3 times that night.  But he was there.  He followed the arresting mob. John also followed, but it seems John was allowed in – which is probably the only way we know what happened at the trial – though I wonder where was John?  Was he right in the trial, or only allowed to stand outside?  We didn’t really discuss John on the inside, so I’m just going to write about Peter.  We focus so many times on the denials, that we forget that he was there.  Jesus was able to LOOK at him when Peter denied him the third time.  There are theories that try to exonerate Peter, but those theories would involve Peter having foreknowledge of what was going to happen and to plan through why he should deny knowing Jesus and I just don’t think Peter planned that far ahead.  We know Peter to be impetuous and reactionary.  I think Peter was curious and wanted to know what was happening, yet was scared, so very scared for his life.  I know there have been times that I have denied God, by words or deeds, but my life has never been on the line.  I was merely trying to save “face” or attempt to increase a social standing.  How revolting does that seem in the face of what Peter did?  Peter was THERE.  Peter’s life was on the line.  The guards could have taken him in regardless of his answer.  Can we really, truly blame Peter for his rash answer?

One last thought on Judas.  Matthew tells us that Judas repented when he found out that Jesus had been condemned and returned the 30 pieces of silver and then killed himself.  While there are a number of theories on Judas and why he did what he did, we will most likely never know, in this life, exactly what his reasons were.  We know he turned Jesus over to the Jewish leaders and then regretted his actions.  Judas sincerely thought Jesus’ time was over.  He, as all of the disciples, didn’t understand Jesus’ teachings on his resurrection.  What if Judas had waited just 2 days?  What if he had sought out the other disciples to explain why he did what he did?  If he had, Judas would have been among the disciples when Mary came running to tell them he was back.  Would he have been with Peter and John when they ran to see with their own eyes?  Perhaps this is the lesson we can learn from Judas – to wait before we act or react to an event.  I can think of several situations right now that I can take this lesson to heart.  Actually, I can think of several situations in my life in which all of these lessons apply.  Now, I need to apply them.

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