This blog provdes a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
BEAUTIFUL ATHLETES-UGLY ANTICS: OLYMPIC OPENING CEREMONY
To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David.
1 Give ear to my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my supplication.
2 Attend to me, and answer me; I am troubled in my complaint.
I am distraught3by the noise of the enemy, because of the clamour of the wicked.
For they bring* trouble upon me, and in anger they cherish enmity against me.
4 My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5 Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.
6 And I say, ‘O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest;
7 truly, I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
8 I would hurry to find a shelter for myself from the raging wind and tempest.’
9 Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech; for I see violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they go around it on its walls,
and iniquity and trouble are within it;
11 ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud do not depart from its market-place.
12 It is not enemies who taunt me— I could bear that;
it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me— I could hide from them.
13 But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend,
14 with whom I kept pleasant company; we walked in the house of God with the throng.
15 Let death come upon them; let them go down alive to Sheol; for evil is in their homes and in their hearts.
16 But I call upon God, and the Lord will save me.
The psalm is a howl of outrage at the behaviour of a friend who has betrayed the psalmist. We are given no details of the offence: it is enough that we know the baffled rage and grief felt by the one who has been betrayed. Perhaps there is no feeling so bitter as our response to someone we have mistakenly trusted with our affection. We feel wounded, stupid and full of anger. Yet there are spheres of society in which it is taken for granted that friends will betray each other in order to succeed; that the opportunity to rise within an organisation will be more important than a mere friendship; and that if we can’t see that truth we are not fit for promotion. There is also the widespead assumption that betrayal in love relationships is not to be taken seriously. Some people become angry but no lasting damage is done.
This psalm acknowledges that betrayal is serious and damaging. God, on the other hand, is never unfaithful. Or so we like to say if we are not watching a loved one sinking into Alzheimer’s.
Pilate Questions Jesus
11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus said, ‘You say so.’12But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer.13Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?’14But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.<!– 15 –>
Barabbas or Jesus?
15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted.16At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus* Barabbas.17So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus* Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?’*18For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.19While he was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.’20Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed.21The governor again said to them, ‘Which of the two do you want me to release for you?’ And they said, ‘Barabbas.’22Pilate said to them, ‘Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?’* All of them said, ‘Let him be crucified!’23Then he asked, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Let him be crucified!’
The subtext here is the revelation in the best manuscripts of the gospel, that Barabbas was also called Jesus, reminding us that this name was very common, although of course, it would have been “Yeshua” in the mouths of Jesus’ speech-group. So Pilate has not one, but two Jesuses. But that’s not the end of the irony, for “Baraabbas” in Aramaic means “Son of the father”. So Pilate is offering the people a choice between Jesus-son-of-the-father and Jesus-who-is -called-Messiah! This is the decisive moment in the story where Jesus is exposed to betrayal by his own people. The scene is of course “invented” by Matthew and his sources: that is, we are dealing with the work of a historical writer, not an eye-witness report. We have to make allowances for Matthew’s own sense of betrayal in his own time, when orthodox Jews were expelling believers in Messiah Jesus from their synagogues and taking away from them the protecton that Judaism enjoyed as a permitted religion within the Roman Empire. Still it seems clear that Jesus was rejected by official Judaism and that this betrayal exposes the dangerous challenge of Jesus to every religious hierarchy, including Christian hierarchies. The guardians of official faith and practice reject the one who comes to fulfil their hopes because he will disrupt their hold on power.
Jesus must have felt this betrayal with as much hurt and anger as the author of Psalm 55. Matthew tells us that even as they reject Jesus in favour of a notorious prisoner, the one released to them is nevertheless a “son of the father”, as all are called to be, in the gospel of Jesus.