“ . . . for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.
Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” Romans 1:21-22
These verses grabbed my attention when I first encountered them as a high school senior in a New Testament class I took for extra credit. Back in the upbeat 1950’s when unlimited possibilities apparently lay before every American, the idea that sin could alter one’s ability to reason appeared implausible at best. I had never met, read about, or heard of anyone in that condition. As we now say, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the concept, despite the time I spent thinking about it.
But as my life has seemingly fast forwarded into the 21st century, the statements do now approach the realm of possibility. I still don’t understand the passage on an individual level, but culturally, we in the US apparently now qualify by claiming to be wise while being fools. For example, consider these recent headlines:
1. Florida University to Award Posthumous Degree to Trayvon Martin (He never even applied to go there, or any other college.)
2. Reed College Radicals Complain That Course in Greco-Roman Thinkers Needs More Non-White Authors (Have they not noticed that it’s supposed to be about only Greek and Roman authors?)
3. Rep. Waters to Hand Out MTV’s “Fight the System” Award, Has served 27 Years in Congress (I consider 27 years in Congress as proof that you are, in fact, part of the system.)
4. UK Students: Ban Clapping and Whooping Because it Excludes the Deaf (Should those who hear also quit talking to each other to avoid excluding anyone?)
5. Gender Bias Study by Women Researchers Suffers from Gender Bias
(Hard to avoid under the circumstances.)
6. BuzzFeed Employee Wishes for Trump Assassination, Company Declares No Bias
(Don’t you know that no news outlet suffers from any bias?)
One has to laugh at the absurdities involved, if only to keep from crying.
Easter commemorates the most significant event of Christianity – that Jesus willingly became the Passover Lamb for all mankind and then went beyond sacrifice to rise from the dead. He arose, not as a ghostly apparition of some sort, but as a living being with a real body. True, He appeared in rooms without the bother of opening the door, but His body retained the wounds and scars of crucifixion. Thomas could actually see and feel them. And He ate food with His astonished followers.
Best of all, our theology teaches us that His sacrifice and resurrection purchased admission to eternal happiness for each one of us, if we decide to accept our prize.
But wait, there’s even more . . . This incident also forms a pattern to comfort all believers through times of stress, persecution, and even martyrdom. Namely, that God’s plans are much, much bigger than we can even imagine. And He is omnipotent, no matter how impossible things may look to us at any given moment.
During those 40 days that Jesus walked the earth after being killed by the Roman government, He explained again many truths in the Old Testament that the disciples had studied all their lives, but had never truly understood.
The disciples had become followers partially because of His parables about love and forgiveness. Then the miracles He performed proved to them that He was, indeed, the long promised Messiah. However, mentally and emotionally they were so bound up in their own unhappy situation that they couldn’t begin to grasp the totality of God’s glorious plans.
At least three times* Jesus had plainly told them He would die and rise from the dead, but the disciples could not understand His statements because they contradicted all the prophetic descriptions they had staked their faith in such as:
“For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts. Haggai 2:6-9
Like all devout Jews, the disciples knew that Jews were given special knowledge of God and that someday, under the coming Messiah, they were to share those truths with people everywhere. They expected to accomplish these results politically after some type of conquest or dramatic change in their status under Roman rule.
But we know, with the advantage of hindsight, that the message of The Messiah spread like wildfire by the people who had absolutely no status, no power, no authority. Instead the ones who changed the world were actually outlaws who spoke of their faith under penalty of death.
Also it generally spread from the servants to their masters, from the prisoners to their guards, and from the beggars to those wealthy enough to give alms. It had nothing in common with our popular campaigns promoted by graduates of the finest business schools.
Yet by AD 313, when Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, the Easter message about a common man who had been executed by the Roman government as a criminal had spread across the entire Greco-Roman world and beyond, with ordained bishops, ordained priests, and churches in major cities.
The point is that God’s answers to prayer or prophecy never resemble what we expect with our lack of imagination. So take heart, no matter what’s going on in your life today. God really does love you. Whatever you hand over to Him, will be turned into a great benefit for you and many others. While it probably will take longer than you would like, the results will reach further than you can imagine. Just consider the difference in both the plans and the results the disciples envisioned versus God’s plans for spreading the gospel of the Kingdom if you get the least bit discouraged.
“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? Hewho did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
““For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
*1 & 2) Jesus specifically told the disciples about a week before the Transfiguration. Then while at Mt. Tabor, he discussed his departure in Jerusalem with Moses and Elijah. Luke 18:21, 31
*3) After returning from the mountain, they met other disciples and He again foretold His death and resurrection, but they were afraid to ask Him for an explanation. Luke 18:44-45
Matthew 27:45-46, 50-52
45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” . . . . .50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.
Mark 15:33, 37-38
33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” . . . . . 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
“The crown of the thorns
is forced upon your head
I turn to face the guilty
I see my sins instead”
Like many Christians, I have a compulsive interest in Judas, especially his eagerly leaving the last Passover dinner in his haste to ensure the capture and arraignment of the rabbi he had been following.
He is so easy to hate. How could he betray Him? Jesus had shown him obvious affection and even honor. Yet Judas “sells” Jesus, and his own soul in the process, for a mere 30 pieces of silver. Such pettiness is repulsive in itself, not to mention the fact that he turned on the one person who had shown him more love in the previous three years than Judas had experienced during his entire life.
When he re-thinks his actions, he tries to give the money back as an expiation for his sin. But, it’s too little, too late. The Jewish authorities refuse to even pick up the money off the floor and they display no empathy for Judas’ regret.
At this point, Fr. Paul Scalia at Courageous Priest explains that regret has no relation to true repentance and that regret is never enough. We must repent, i.e., to turn around and change direction in order to escape our sins and stupidity.
We have to admit out loud that we did wrong. We cannot offer any excuses for our actions. Our actions were bad no matter how we “talked” ourselves into committing them. Or how we interpreted circumstances in making excuses for our own bad choices.
If you go to Confession on Good Friday, remember that eternity and ultimate truth are your main concerns, not trying to salvage any silly little vestige of your so-called dignity. Freedom only comes through absolute honesty; anything else is too little, too late.
“ . . . and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” St. John 8:32
Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread,
has lifted the heel against me. Psalm 41:9
The physical torture that Jesus endured just before His death was so great that only a robust young man could have withstood it at all. Even so, once nailed to the cross, He died within about three hours instead of the usual twenty. And He died before they needed to break his legs to stop yet another painful struggle for one more breath by pushing himself up to gasp for air despite the nails in His feet.
Still, most of us identify with the emotional pain he endured that last day because of our own suffering. Practically everyone who was graced to be in His presence while He lived on earth ended up stabbing Him in the back although He had loved each of them like they had never been loved before.
The Sadducees and Pharisees, the religious scholars who had researched prophecies about the coming Messiah their entire lives, were actually the ones who finally brought legal charges against Him. The crowds who breathlessly listened to His parables and followed from town to field to experience His miracles yelled “Barabbas!” when Pilate offered freedom to Jesus. Peter, the one Jesus had chosen to lead after His departure, was in hiding along with other followers after becoming panic stricken that powerless young slave girls recognized him as a disciple.
But, of course, the worst was Judas, who was especially close to Jesus, according to John 13. Like today, the places on either side of the host at dinner were the places of honor. John, the beloved, reclined to the right of Jesus while apparently Judas was the one to His left, the place of highest honor.
If Jesus reclined on His left arm, as was the custom, it would have been natural to pass a morsel of bread to honor the person on His left. Passing to the one of the right would be back-handed and awkward at best.
As Judas ate the food given to honor him, Satan possessed him and he awkwardly left the celebration to earn his thirty pieces of silver.
None of us have experienced such treachery, yet each betrayal we undergo, insignificant or life changing, leaves a scar that heals slowly and painfully. Our own healing depends on our willingness to forgive and let God handle the consequences for us and for the traitor.
God manages to effect change far better than we can even imagine. Just compare the limited vision the disciples had of Jesus’ ruling an earthly kingdom and the kingdom of God as portrayed in Revelation. They wanted the Jews to be triumphant over the hated Romans. God wanted “the earth to be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters that cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)