Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 104; 149, Job 38:1-17, Acts 15:22-35, John 11:45-54
For decades Judea was a fairly independent kingdom, but shortly after Jesus’s birth it fell directly under Roman administration. The Romans, aware of many Jews dissatisfied with the increasing restrictions, clamped down ruthlessly on any sign of insurrection. When a messianic, rabble-rousing Jesus grew yet more influential after raising Lazarus, the political climate had Jewish leaders worrying “the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”
We might be quick to judge the Pharisees (aren’t we always?), but the responsibility of protecting a nation against a threatening force strains ideals to the breaking point. Since the desires to keep people safe and to maintain personal power are not mutually exclusive, motivations become murky. This does not excuse the plot to kill Jesus, but it does put it into context. However, despite the Pharisee’s best efforts to appease both the Jews and the Romans, a Jewish revolt in 66 AD ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple.
The Pharisees illustrate a valuable lesson: how we defend a thing can be as important – maybe more so – than the thing itself. If our methods to defend a family, institution, or nation fundamentally alter its character – for example, covering up a scandal to avoid exposure rather than practicing the integrity we preach – we are left with a diminished thing that may no longer even be worth defending. How hard do we have to search for churches that have undermined their own moral authority, democracies that respond to threats by restricting personal liberties, and businesses which trade ethics for the bottom line? Not far enough. And in almost all cases, leaders somehow justified to at least themselves and often their people that survival was worth the cost.
Yes, the world demands compromise, but Jesus teaches us to face the consequences of integrity. He tells us it’s better to show up to heaven missing eyes and hands rather than let them cause us to sin. That goes for wallets, titles, and flags as well. Jesus paid the ultimate price for our eternal life; don’t sell him short out of fear.
Comfort: Integrity costs us a lot because it’s worth it.
Challenge: See above.
Prayer: God of all humankind, may my decisions be a reflection of your love for me and all people. Amen.
Discussion: What are you willing to sacrifice for survival?
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