Sermon: Withstanding the Onslaught
“And they said, ‘What is that to us? see thou to that.’” [Matthew 27:4b]
There was a priest in a distant parish that had a wife who was well known for her charitable impulses. She would help anyone in need and did it with great kindness and Christian love.
Well, one day a big, burly man came to see her at her home. The man was visibly upset and almost in tears. “Madam,” he said in a broken voice, “I wish to draw your attention to the terrible plight of a poor family in your parish. The father is dead; the mother is too ill to work; and the nine children are starving. And what is worse, they are about to be turned out into the cold streets unless someone steps up and pays their rent.” “How terrible!”exclaimed the priest’s wife. “May I ask who you are?” The sympathetic visitor, as he wiped his eyes with his handkerchief replied, “I’m the landlord.”
This story reminded me of the first part of Saint Matthew’s Passion, which we read today. We are told that the next morning after Jesus’ arrest, the chief priests and elders start to plan how to have Jesus killed:
WHEN the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.
Then Judas comes back to them. He feels guilty, confesses that he has done something wrong, and tries to repent. He tries to make it right. But the chief priests and scribes respond very coldly with:
“What is that to us? see thou to that.”
Judas then throws the money back in their faces, leaves, and hangs himself. But then something quite amazing happens:
And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, “It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.” And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in.
Look how scrupulously these men consider the thirty pieces of silver! They have no problem plotting the execution of an innocent man, nor paying his betrayer thirty pieces of silver, but Heaven help them if this money were put in the common coffers. Instead they do something quite noble with the money – they buy a field to bury strangers in. But my question is, how can these people who are so scrupulous in their religious practice, how can these people who claim to be so religious and so holy on one hand do such a despicable crime on the other?
This reminds me of the mafia hit man who, after his crimes all week goes to confession and then, the next week, continues to do what he has always done without abatement or repentance.
But, as any one of us who have a few years under our belts can testify, this is NOT uncommon. How many times have we shaken our heads in disbelief? How many times have we wondered how anyone can be that dumb or that hypocritical?
The truth is that none of us are exempt from the mental acrobatics these priests and elders went through that made them capable of plotting the death of Christ and yet still fearful of the repercussions of taking tainted money.
Look at our two Gospel lessons for today. One moment, Jesus is being hailed. Palms are strewn underneath His colt’s feet to show how the people think that Jesus is the Christ and to show their reverence. Yet, less than a week later, some of these same people are calling for His execution.
Have you ever thought of something that, in the fantasy of your mind, seems like a great idea? Then you tell someone. As soon as you do, the errors, problems, faulty logic, or just plain bad thinking becomes apparent. It has happened to me. Often it happens when I have this “brilliant” idea as to how to get my students to learn a concept, just to be shot down with reality.
But what we are dealing with in our lessons for today is something much worse. It is what we go through in our minds to justify actions that cannot be justified. It is what the upper echelons of Nazi Germany went through in their minds to justify their Final Solution to the “Jewish problem.” It is what the soldiers went through in their minds to justify My Lai or Abu Ghraib:
But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
It is easy for all of us to read this passage from the Gospel of Saint Matthew and divorce ourselves from what happened. After all, we are Christians. We believe that Jesus is the Christ. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here in church.
But, that being said, wouldn’t the Chief priests and elders tell themselves essentially the same thing? They would have thought of themselves as “holy” and as doing “what was right.” If we were able to ask them, the chief priests and elders would have probably told us that they did this heinous act for a greater good – to preserve Palestine – to prevent revolution, bloodshed, and Roman reprisal. But, we also know the truth. We also know that the real reason they did this heinous act was out of envy, and not any professed noble reason:
Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, “Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?” For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.
But every one of us should be convicted by the actions of the chief priests and elders. We should be asking ourselves, “What great evil are WE capable of doing? And what can we do to prevent it?”
I cannot answer this question for you. Each of us is different. Each of us have our own, unique weaknesses. Rather, what I ask each of us to do is read and study these great passages and pray to God that He will show us where our weaknesses lie, and how we can correct them, or, at the very least, control them. And if we do this, we may be able to withstand the onslaught of the world, the flesh, and the devil.