Do we have the courage of our convictions? Pontius Pilate, the prefect of the Roman province of Judaea from AD25- AD37, had a notorious contempt for Jewish customs and traditions. This is highlighted in this week’s Gospel reading concerning the trial of Jesus, where he says to Jesus, in effect, don’t ask me to understand your Jewish religion. Despite this contempt for the Jewish leaders, Pilate has an interest in what Jesus stands for, even a respect. He is interested in the source of Jesus’ authority as a king – a kingdom not of this world. He certainly finds no reason to kill Jesus. However, there is something, sadly, that is even more important to Pilate. He knows he has not been a particularly good prefect and he knows that he could be summoned back to Rome for judgement before Caesar unless he improves his relationship with the people in Judaea. So, despite his interest in what Jesus stands for, he takes the easy option and ultimately succumbs to the wishes of the Jewish leaders and the mob by having Jesus crucified. In the final analysis, he was more concerned about his own job than he was about the truth. What about us? Do we take the easy way out or stand up for the truth? Pilate famously asked, what is truth? Ironically, he was the one man in history who had the opportunity to accept the truth that was talking to him and exercise the courage of his convictions. Alas, he didn’t, and history moved on. Let us not miss our chance.
In the Gospel reading this week, Jesus foretells the horrors that would befall Jerusalem in AD 70, about 40 years after his own death. The Roman Emperor Titus surrounded the city and starved its inhabitants into submission. The events within the city were unimaginably terrible. Although none of us, hopefully, will ever endure anything so horrible, Jesus goes onto say that his followers will also experience persecution. Moreover, this persecution may divide families. Today in parts of Asia and the Middle East, sons and daughters are disowned by their parents if they become Christians and leave the religion of the upbringing. On a smaller scale, we too may be mocked in our own workplaces and communities for being followers of Jesus Christ. This, said Jesus, is all to be expected. What is the answer? Jesus simply encourages us to endure to the end and then we will be saved. Life is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Jeffrey tells the story of a famous man who refused to have his biography written while he was still alive because he knew of many men who fell on the last lap of the race. It was John Bunyan who, in his dream, saw that from the very gates of heaven there was a way to hell. We are all called to endure to the very end and then, along with all who have suffered in Christ’s name, we WILL be saved, no matter how terrible our plight.
The Gospel reading this week involves two stories. The first is Jesus’ warning about the teachers of religious law who take pride in their religious robes and the fact that people bow to them as they walk by. The second story is the account of the widow’s mite. For us, there is a challenge in both stories. Are we obsessed with our religious status? Christians are most vulnerable when people tell them that they have done something great for the Kingdom, such as preach a powerful sermon. It is here that our ‘puffed up’ pride can cause us to fall. Next, the story of the widow’s mite reminds us about real giving. Our giving to the work of God should be, above all else, sacrificial. If we simply give what we have left each month then that is not really giving at all. Rather, our giving should cause us to give up something fundamental to our lives each week or month. Our giving should cause us to go without. In a sense both these stories are linked. Here, Jesus is painting a picture of the Kingdom of Heaven. Being a Christian is not about obtaining status, reputation and resources, rather it is about emptying ourselves of all these things. Being a Christian is quintessentially not about receiving but about giving.
A well-known educationalist once said, we often end up valuing what we can measure rather than attempting to measure what is of real value. This practice spills over into church life as we strive to quantify spiritual standards by how pious we have been. This religiosity or legalism was no less prevalent in Jesus’ day. The sacrificial system was based on performing certain religious practices with a certain quantity of bulls, rams, doves or other elements of sacrifice. Today, some in the church delight in measuring spiritual worthiness by our ability to keep the rules and follow the laws. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that there is no place for order, spiritual discipline and even religion but I fear we often go too far, because there is something much more important. The Gospel passage this week is the account of the conversation between Jesus and the inquiring religious law teacher. Jesus commends the religious teacher for his understanding of love. Jesus confirms that loving God and loving our neighbour is more important than all the sacrifices (old and new) required in the law. This is not a licence to do anything; far from it. Rather it is a life of action and deeds which is borne out of love rather than a sense of failure if we don’t follow all the pre-determined man-made rules.