March 13, 2018

Tuesday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.   Mark 15:3-5

 

Lent is a time for silence, and not always in the quiet contemplative way we might be tempted to associate with it. In this short but mighty scene from Mark’s Gospel we witness Jesus refusing to respond to Pilate’s demand for answers following a false accusation. His silence is a far cry from any image of a hermit sitting on a distant hilltop. His silence is a powerful form of protest—a sign of his true power in the face of a lesser adversary.

Pilate believes himself to have the upper hand, and at first blush the world might tend to agree. He has the might of the Emperor behind him. He has the crowd turning to him to wield their brand of justice. He has money, prestige, and military might. Because of all of these trappings of power, he has come to believe that people will listen and respond to him when he speaks—even if he is demanding answers to lies. Pilate was so sure of his own power that there were really only two responses he expected from Jesus in this moment: fight or flight. Jesus could have openly fought back with yells or screams or been terrified and tried to plead for mercy.

But Jesus chose a third way. Jesus chose the dignity and defiance of silence. Jesus chose the way of nonviolent resistance. Instead of pretending that Pilate was all-powerful, Jesus acted on what he knew to be the bigger truth—that God was in charge. As such, he did not respond to Pilate as though he were an equal of God. Assured in his knowledge that he was acting on God’s will, Jesus had no need to defend himself from lies or defer to a lesser power. Imagine what a shock it must have been for Pilate to see someone as low on the proverbial power scale as Jesus having the audacity NOT to respond to him! Jesus’ silence amazes him and he must take notice of Jesus in that moment.

In an era when people literally shout at each other for entertainment (think ESPN) or for political discourse (think Fox or CNN), making a choice to not respond to lies or inflammatory noise is an act of rebellion. It is choosing a third way of peace in a time that desperately needs the strength of those who do not need to be the loudest person in the room to feel like the most powerful. Lent give us the chance to develop the strength to be silent so that the love of God might be the loudest sound of all and that people might be amazed at his power.

 


O God, with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light: Quench our thirst with living water, and flood our darkened minds with heavenly light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

The Rev. Dr. Hillary D. Raining
St. Christopher’s, Gladwyne

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March 2, 2018

Friday after the Second Sunday in Lent

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard. So when he came, he went up to him at once and said “Rabbi!” and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. Mark 14:43-46

 

At the center of Bologna in Italy, there is a complex of 4 (once 7) churches, known as “Little Jerusalem” because copies have been built there of what is believed to be Christ’s tomb, a miniature Gethsemane and even Pilate’s Courtyard at Santo Stefano. Daily, this “little Jerusalem” teaches, through the narrative of its architecture, the story of betrayal and suffering unto death to worshippers, pilgrims and the most casual tourist. This struck me as powerful, having our tradition of only annual, Holy Week connection to the stories of Judas’ and Simon Peter’s betrayal of Jesus. For this to be a constant in people’s lives took me a little aback.

20170312_venice_264Standing in Pilate’s Courtyard, admiring the plump cockerel in its perfect niche, the sunny courtyard with its pretty stone well, I wondered that these symbols of life could be perverted to mean betrayal. Then, one kiss, given to betray instead of to express love and devotion, resulting in the worst perfidy. Isn’t this how betrayal happens: casual, barely noticed, bit by bit? Then the unspeakable consequences: the grey lifeless, tortured figure of Jesus sculpted above the nearby crypt.

Today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark invokes the crowd of temple military with their swords and clubs eager to pick up whomever Judas identifies – but evidently unable to identify him themselves. Unleashed by the religious authorities, they act without questioning the veracity of the claims made against the man they have been sent to arrest and bring before Pilate. They carry out decisions that have been made in all their names by fearful chief priests, scribes and elders, colluding with the Roman state.

The experience of standing in Pilate’s Courtyard in Bologna’s “little Jerusalem” left me conscious of the quotidian nature of betrayal. It is part of the difficult truth of our humanity. We can each be degraded, whether we betray ourselves or one another, or when betrayal occurs in our names. We betray the God we love.

I believe we are living in a time of betrayal of many of our deepest commitments as people of God. Whether it’s the environment, international assistance, respect for treaties, our treatment of the alien among us, protection of long-respected immigration goals, health-care as a human right…much of who we are as people of faith is compromised daily.

Jesus, in Mark’s gospel, prepares the sleepy disciples for Judas’ approach : “Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” Would that we could live more consciously, recognizing our complicity in his betrayal, and that God grant us the will to object, and the strength to resist evil; that is my prayer.

 

The Rev. Barbara Abbott
Saint George’s, Ardmore