Though Lent is often uncomfortable by its nature, I felt particularly uncomfortable this Lent. There’s been a lot going on for me as far as reading, travel, and processing discoveries. In the midst of all that, I’ve been preaching every other week at a midweek service, guided by the selected passages and main themes in Adam Hamilton’s 24 Hours that Changed the World. One of the weeks I got to preach the title was ‘Condemned by the Righteous,’ the passage was, in part Mark 14:53, 55-56, 61-65:
They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. . . . Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree . . . The high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’ ”Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.
All of the passages have been from Mark, which has been interesting because I took a class specifically on Mark in seminary. In Mark things happen fast and even abruptly, and now we’ve entered the passion narrative, a critical piece where Mark places much emphasis. We began our look at Jesus’ final 24 hours beginning with the last supper, followed by his time of anguished prayer in the garden, and now he is betrayed with a kiss from one of his close friends, and abandoned by the rest of his disciples. Jesus was arrested in secret and with no grounds, made to walk under arrest, placed in a dungeon-ous pit and accosted by the pillars of the community for hours.
“The God of the universe chose to walk in human flesh as an itinerant preacher, teacher, carpenter, healer and pauper. He came as one of us. He healed the sick, forgave sinners, showed compassion to the lost, and taught people what God was really like. We must not miss the irony here: It was not the “sinners” who arrested God when he walked among us. Those who took him into custody and tried him were the most pious and religious people on the face of the earth. The God they claimed to serve walked among them in the flesh, and they could not see him. They were so blinded by their love of power and their fear of losing it that they missed him.” –Adam Hamilton in 24 Hours That Changed the World, p. 48.
How could this happen? How could the most pious men in the community, the persons who everyone thought of as being the most dedicated to God do this? Not only because it was God, God-self — but because even if they didn’t think he was the Messiah, why would they spit on, mock, abuse, and sentence to death an innocent man? How does that happen?
This passage is not new to me and yet this year I’ve seen it anew. It has convicted me. It has brought up many questions for me. And though I often think of the church with the subtitle of ‘Adventures in Missing the Point;’ I don’t believe that is solely the case here. To me, this is an example of what fear can do to people.
I finished reading the book ‘The New Jim Crow’ recently and I was beside myself upset over this book and its revelations of mass incarceration, the overwhelming high percentage of blacks who get put in jail. and the history behind discrimination regarding voting, and other things. I had conversations around for-profit prisons and detention centers. What struck me the most is that some of the language in the book was the very same language that someone accused me of not too long ago while discussing immigration. Things like “the breakdown of law and order…” Fear!
“Fear performs its poisonous work within all of us. How often are we still motivated by it? In what ways does our fear lead us, individually and as a nation, to do what is wrong–what is at times unthinkable–while justifying our actions as necessary?” (p. 50). These righteous men feared Jesus because peple liked him and that put insecurity in them and their roles. They feared losing power or status. Who knows all that they feared. I must ask, would I be found among those who out of fear and insecurity sentenced an innocent man to death? How would my decisions be different if I asked myself not “What is the thing that will make me feel most secure?” but “What is the most loving thing for me to do?” (p. 51) As much as I want to condemn these men, judge them, and proclaim that I would do no such thing, I can’t say that with certainty. I can’t say that with certainty because we have… we have done the same.
What are some examples? Between 1885 and 1967, approximately 49,000 homosexual men were convicted of gross indecency under British law and many forced into chemical castration. In addition to current mass incarceration and existent systematic racism, the old Jim Crow laws in past are good examples. The Holocaust, apartheid in South Africa, and so on. All things that I think in part were flamed by fear. Fear of the unfamiliar. Fear of losing power. There are many different kinds of fears. But in addition to these examples that are on more massive scales, I wonder about the things in our lives specifically.
Soldiers, religious persons and mobs end up murdering God’s son. Whether under the guise of following orders, or good biblical values, or standing up for law and order, or all of the other excuses people give for doing nonsensical things, injustice is seemingly justified. When have I let my fears cause me to behave unjustly – whether by action or inaction. We are not told that any of the religious individuals involved in Jesus’ trials spoke up… not one. When have I remained silent in the midst of injustice? It doesn’t have to be something spectacular or newsworthy — injustice occurs in many times and places — be it in our jobs, our homes, schools, the places we shop for food (even the very food we buy) or other places we pass through.
These are the things that I have been pondering. As we remember this day the injustice that was the cross, may we not only remember how we are complicit in it, but how we are complicit in other injustices even today.
Lord Jesus Christ, you became weak so that we might be strong; you poured yourself out so that we might be filled; your body was broken so that we might be fed; you died upon a cross so that we might live. And yet your ways are not our ways. Save us from our strengths. Place within us a hunger for righteousness and a thirst for justice. Remind us that in giving we receive. Keep us near the cross, a sign of judgment and hope, of forgiveness and new life. Amen. (Kenneth H. Carter, Just in Time! Prayers and Liturgies of Confession and Assurance, Abingdon Press.)
Thank you for a thought-provoking Easter weekend post. I’m interested in understanding the background behind:
‘the language in the book was the very same language that someone accused me of not too long ago while discussing immigration. Things like “the breakdown of law and order…”’
You imply that Jim Crow and immigration policy are similar or connected somehow. Can you explain what you meant?
P.S. I hope you found the articles I sent you a couple of months ago worthwhile.
Rev. Esther, following up my previous comment, the more I ponder your post, the more questions I have. You cite Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow” and write about “the overwhelming high percentage of blacks who get put in jail” and the “current mass incarceration and existent systematic racism.” I think you’re saying that blacks (and others…immigrants?) are unjustly “condemned by the righteous” just as Jesus was. Is this what you mean?
I investigated the book via the link you provided. The author gives away her “America is wicked” bias in the excerpt, which claims that “the same goals” of holding back blacks were “shared by the Founding Fathers.” This is the standard leftist’s view of the “flawed” founding of our country. This view conveniently ignores the fact that slavery was a constant on every continent for thousands of years (and it’s still practiced today in some places). Looking at America’s founding in the context of human history, the remarkable thing isn’t that we had slaves, it’s that we ended slavery—at enormous cost. We ended slavery because deep in the founding principles of this country were deeply Christian principles (“all men are created equal”) that eventually couldn’t be reconciled with it.
I also see Cornel West wrote the Forward. I don’t view West as a positive influence on race relations. He commends the “heroic work of intellectual freedom fighters” like Angela Davis, a member of the Communist Party USA into the 1990s (and still very much working toward goals aligned with communism). He says the “racial caste system must be dismantled, that we need a revolution in our warped priorities, a transfer of power from oligarchs to the people.” This sounds like the typical rant of the average “America is immoral” socialist. (Which reminds me of Thomas Sowell’s famous question: “Compared to what?”) Do you agree with West’s views? You appear to.
Speaking of Sowell, a black author who’s had much to say over a long and distinguished career, I commend these two samplings of his work to your reading:
The second column reviews a recent book by Jason Riley, another black author. I urge you to pick it up as a way of challenging the opinions you’ve formed via Alexander’s book. Or at least use the “Look Inside!” feature at Amazon and start at page 73, where Riley mentions Ms. Alexander. He notes that “The black homicide rate is seven times that of whites…Liberal elites [like Alexander] would have us deny what black ghetto residents know to be the truth. These communities…[are] dangerous mainly due to black criminals preying on black victims…The black inmate population reflects black criminality, not a racist criminal justice system…Black crime rates are vastly higher than white crime rates.” Does your claim of “systematic racism” hold up under these facts?
I respect your obvious passion for the plight of the less fortunate. But to channel the claims of those like Cornel West that “the righteous” are responsible for the ills of society will cause many to turn away from your message.
After reading this book I didn’t perceive anything about America being wicked – but the examples shared (along with my own life experience) lead me to believe that our systems are indeed racist. That is not to say that good does not happen in spite of this. I would read the book before passing judgment on its content. It’s easy to speak from the outside looking in – so I invite a look in. Also, my comparison to Jesus was based solely on the reaction from fear (and being threatened) that again, stuck out to me given my own recent personal experiences. Jesus always had strong words against the religious and those who abused the marginalized. So just as I personally endeavor to not be dismissive of others for their being ‘left’ ‘right’ or anything in between and I try to read folks who I don’t necessarily agree with, I encourage you to try to read things that you wouldn’t typically read. Thanks for your thoughts.
As a P.S. to my previous comments, Thomas Sowell has just written a piece that I must quote, since it’s so directly on point. Here’s the piece:
And here are some of the key passages:
‘The “legacy of slavery” argument is not just an excuse for inexcusable behavior in the ghettos. In a larger sense, it is an evasion of responsibility for the disastrous consequences of the prevailing social vision of our times, and the political policies based on that vision, over the past half century…You cannot take any people, of any color, and exempt them from the requirements of civilization — including work, behavioral standards, personal responsibility, and all the other basic things that the clever intelligentsia disdain — without ruinous consequences to them and to society at large.’
The entire article is well worth a few minutes of your time.
In the wake of Obama’s release of federal prisoners, here’s some commentary directly aimed at Alexander’s book:
I have another comment that’s been “awaiting moderation” for quite some time. Is this blog still active?