This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
FEARFUL CHRISTIAN FAMILIES FLEE SYRIA
57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the Law and elders had assembled. 58 Peter followed him at a distance as far as the courtyard of the offices, to see the end. 59 Meanwhile the chief priests and the whole of the High Council were trying to get such false evidence against Jesus, as would warrant putting him to death, 60 but they did not find any, although many came forward with false evidence. Later on, however, two men came forward and said: 61 “This man said ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God, and to build it in three days.’” 62 Then the high priest stood up, and said to Jesus: “Have you no answer? What is this evidence which these men are giving against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him: “I order you, by the living God, to tell us whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
64 “It is true,” Jesus answered; “Moreover I tell you all that hereafter you will ‘see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Almighty, and coming on the clouds of the heavens.’” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes. “This is blasphemy!” he exclaimed. “Why do we want any more witnesses? You have just heard his blasphemy! 66 What is your decision?” They answered: “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spat in his face, and struck him, while others dealt blows at him, saying as they did so: 68 “Now play the prophet for us, you Messiah! Who was it that struck you?”
This is a vivid picture of a kangaroo court anywhere, anytime: there is a pretence of legality, but it doesn’t need to be a very convincing pretence since all present except the accused are thought to be of one mind. In fact there were some members of the court who disagreed and we may owe this account of Jesus’ trial to them.
It’s clear that claiming to be the Messiah was not blasphemy in itself. Many expected God to send his Messiah: a claim to be Messiah was therefore not a claim to be God or to misuse the name of God. A false claim to be the Messiah might be blasphemous in making use of God’s name to deceive. Prophesying the destruction of the temple, or even of replacing it, was a serious crime, but not blasphemous. So we are left with the supposition that the court judged Jesus claim to be Messiah blasphemous because they assumed it was false. Certainly a Galilean rabbi with no pretence at being a statesman or political leader didn’t look much like a Messiah, particularly if he was given to scurrilous outbursts against the ruling religious parties. The court would have been aware of course that any Messianic demonstration might bring catastrophic intervention from the Romans. Jesus’ own awareness of that may have been one reason for his reluctance to use the title Messiah; the other being his rejection of the popular image of the Messianic role.
The lack of careful evidence, the denial of any defence, the hysterical, self-justifying aggression of the court would be only too familiar to those who have suffered in show trials anywhere in the world, in the Spanish Inqisition, in Stalin’s Soviet Union, in McCarthy’s USA, in Israel’s judgment on Mordecai Vanunu, in Chinese trials during the cultural revolution. Those who follow Jesus Messiah should also support the work of Amnesty International in exposing these practices anywjere in the world.
The faith of the Christian Church that Jesus’ death on the cross is central to its assurance of God’s love, has led it to underestimate the crimes committed against Jesus by the leaders of his own people and by the Romans-almost as if because the salvation of the world came through such actions, they might not be too bad. On the contrary,if “salvation” has any meaning it must expose the nature of these evils and reval how they are to be overcome. At any rate we can be sure that the One who will ultimately judge all the religious and political killers of our world will be one who has suffered their pathetic malice, their petty and demeaning violence.
13 Let us, then, cease to judge one another. Rather let this be your resolve — never to place a stumbling-block or an obstacle in the way of a fellow follower of the Lord. 14 Through my union with the Lord Jesus, I know and am persuaded that nothing is ‘defiling in itself.’ A thing is ‘defiling’ only to the person who holds it to be so. 15 If, for the sake of what you eat, you wound your fellow follower’s feelings, your life has ceased to be ruled by love. Do not, by what you eat, ruin someone for whom Christ died! 16 Do not let what is right for you become a matter of reproach. 17 For the kingdom of God does not consist of eating and drinking, but of goodness and peace and gladness through the presence of the Holy Spirit. 18 The person who serves the Christ in this way pleases God, and wins the approval of their fellows. 19 Therefore our efforts should be directed towards all that makes for peace and the mutual building up of character. 20 Do not undo God’s work for the sake of what you eat. Though everything is ‘clean,’ yet, if a person eats so as to put a stumbling-block in the way of others, they do wrong. 21 The right course is to abstain from meat or wine or, indeed, anything that is a stumbling-block to your fellow follower of the Lord. 22 As for yourself — keep this faith of yours to yourself, as in the presence of God. Happy the person who never has to condemn themselves in regard to something they think right! 23 The person, however, who has misgivings stands condemned if they still eat, because their doing so is not the result of faith. And anything not done as the result of faith is a sin.
Paul is dealing with the issue of food taboos which were known in Gentile society as well as Jewish. Various religious and societal rules prescribed ceratin dietary requirements. The Jewish understanding was that ceratin foods were unclean and coud defile a person before other people and before God. Paul announces that his own faith in Messiah Jesus has swept away al these rules. Nothing the creator has made is unclean. But, says Paul, if people believe it to be unclean, they will feel polluted by eating it or perhaps even by their friends eating it. Therefore he advises that within the Christian community strong beleivers like himself should be careful of the tender consciences of those whose faith is weaker.
First of all Paul sweeps away the purity laws which are the source of much religious power; and then he insists that “sweeping them away” should not become a stick to beat the backs of others. All religious power based on “what we eat” must be abandoned for the sake of “goodness, peace and gladness” which a Christian community can enjoy when it shares God’s spirit.
Paul’s wisdom in this matter puts an axe to the root of all religious bullying. People today who are weak in faith, perhaps with regard to the equality of gay brothers and sisters, should be treated with respect and care, while the principle of gay equality is as clearly stated by the church today as Paul stated the equality of all foods.