FEELING LENT…DEFIANCE IN HALLS OF POWER
Matthew 26:57-67. 27:11-26
March 22, 2020 Fourth Sunday in Lent
Over these Sundays of Lent we are feeling Lent! We are exploring in this series of messages the waves of emotion that wash over Jesus during his final days in Jerusalem, while also encountering how these emotions speak to us in our journey as Christian folk.
On previous Sundays, we have witnessed Jesus experiencing exhilaration on Mt. Olive Road as he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We have seen him filled with rage as he cleanses the temple of supposedly holy persons committing unholy exploitation of disadvantaged folk. Last Sunday we ran into confusion in the Upper Room as Jesus takes on the role of a slave, washing his disciples’ nasty feet.
This morning there is yet another emotion to be felt – defiance.
What image comes to your mind when you hear the word defiance?
– A toddler pitching a screaming fit and having to be dragged out of the playland at Chick-fil-A?
– A teenager refusing to pick up 2-week-old rotting underwear from a bedroom floor?
– An NFL player making an issue of the national anthem, refusing to stand?
This morning we are going to see Jesus expanding the emotion of defiance’s definition. Let’s begin…
JESUS DEFIES HATRED WITH COURAGE
Perhaps you remember the narrative: Jesus and his disciples leave the Upper Room late that evening. His soul is troubled. He stops by the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. His time there is interrupted by the clamoring of an approaching mob. Religious folk, carrying swords and clubs. Judas leads them to Jesus. They arrest and bind him and take him away to Caiaphas’ house, the high priest, where the religious elders have convened a clandestine kangaroo court.
Hear the account from Matthew 26:
59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward.
At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him.
Yes, in the face of breathing, seething animosity, Jesus does not cower. He is being railroaded into an execution, yet, He defies hatred with calm, composed courage.
Next, the chief priests and elders drag Jesus to the headquarters of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor charged with keeping the peace in Jerusalem. It’s Passover time. The city is teeming with thousands of fanatical religious pilgrims. No one likes the occupying Roman forces. Pilate is the consummate politician. Pilate knows that a spark of protest could set off a blazing riot throughout the region, and his head would roll.
Listen to his encounter with Jesus:
11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up.
20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
Wow…talk about your career, gutless, spineless, cover-your-own-butt, politician. Pontius Pilate is a piece of work, isn’t he?
Now, friends, we know that Jesus could have chosen a different path than the one leading to a hill called Calvary. Crucifixion, the most painful form of execution ever devised by mankind, did not have to be his fate.
And yet, Jesus chose the nails, that these words might become eternal truth for us all: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
It’s beyond my feeble mind to grasp what all that means, but suffice it to say, we know that Jesus chooses to defy hatred with courage, that all of humanity might somehow behold the infinite degree to which God loves us.
In these days of quarantine, please take time to ponder that. Ponder it deeply.
And furthermore, perhaps we would do well to consider what defiance we might practice in our daily lives…
DEFYING FEAR WITH FAITH
It has been very bizarre how all our lives have seemingly changed on a dime in just the last 10 days. We’ve gone from humming cheerfully Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there to pining the threat Like a good neighbor, stay over there!
There has been this undercurrent of fear gripping our world, nation and community. We don’t like not knowing the unknown. We don’t like losing control. And that’s where we are right now.
And you see it evidenced by hoarding. Last Monday, before Costco went to its 10-customer-at-a-time policy, it was like the final lap at the Daytona 500. People were grabbing their shopping carts, flying through the doors, and the race was on to get to the far back corner of the store where the dwindling supply of toilet paper was located.
I made the mistake of stopping in the nearby cereal aisle to see if there were still any Lucky Charms to be had and I got T-boned twice by the grubby Charmin grabbers! Geez!
As we continue in the monotonous marathon of this new normal, let’s take some time to breathe. Take some time to immerse ourselves in praying the promises of God, promises such as the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:25-33
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Yes, defy fear with faith. Faith is trust. Trust in God. There is nothing we will face that God will not face with us.
Seek first God’s kingdom, where his will of love is done. Practice his righteousness.
Righteousness? Yes, practice righteousness…
- Take time to make a phone call, send a note/email/text to someone you know is lonely in these social-distancing days.
- Do you know someone whose livelihood has been impacted severely by the economic downturn. Be generous, not selfish. Send them some cash. Help with a pending bill. Give magnanimously to those who are struggling.
- Pray for our leaders, our medical researchers, healthcare workers, our delivery persons working on the front line to find answers to this pandemic and to keep us going with what we need in the meantime.
- And when you pray, ask God for creative ways you can make a difference in these scary times.
Yes, my friends, as Jesus defied hatred with courage, that we might have life and have it abundantly, may we in turn, defy fear with faith, trusting that our Lord will provide a way through these dark, difficult days.
I came across a beautiful prayer by Laura Kelly Fanucci, the author of the Faith at Home column for the Catholic News Service, I share it with you in closing:
(Lord), when this is over, may we never again take for granted
A handshake with a stranger
Full shelves at the store
Conversations with neighbors
A crowded theater
Friday night out
The taste of communion bread and cup
A routine checkup
The school rush each morning
Coffee with a friend
The stadium roaring
Each deep breath
A boring Tuesday
When this ends may we find that we have become
More like the people
We wanted to be
We were called to be
We hoped to be
And may we stay that way —
better for each other,
because of the worst. Amen.