Sunday, May 17, 2015

Hands of Hope: Privileged

This is a post by my friend Lisa.  I feel it is worth sharing:   Hands of Hope: Privileged: So, now that I'm using this blog for my personal reflections and utilizing other media for communicating about the ABLE program, I&#...

Monday, April 6, 2015

THE MAN WITH CLEAN HANDS

The New Testament devotes a great amount of material to the trials of Jesus - more even than to the crucifixion itself.  There were six stages taking up the whole night as well as the morning preceding His death.  The gospel writers paint pictures of the various characters involved in the drama - the Jewish priests, Judas his betrayer, Peter who denied him, Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate to whom the greatest amount of material is devoted.
 
In many retellings of the story - sermons, Sunday school lessons, movies, TV episodes - Pilate is treated as a minor character, in others as an evil, unprincipled man.  But the Gospels themselves portray him almost sympathetically, as a troubled, confused, frustrated person; a man who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; a truly tragic figure.

There is also much historical material available concerning Pilate.  Josephus the contemporary Jewish historian and others give background for an understanding of the man.  An inscription with his name and title - "prefect" has even been discovered.  He served as prefect (Josephus calls him procurator) of the Roman province of Judea from 26-36 AD.  It is thought that he held this position under the patronage of Sejanus the prefect of the Praetorian guard, the most powerful man in Rome.

Pilate is pictured by history as a cruel "law and order" governor.  He had cruelly quelled Jewish demonstrations and riots in the past (see Luke 13:1) and at the time of Jesus' trial his position was shaky, as the Jews had powerful connections in Rome and by this time Sejanus had fallen from power.

So when the Jewish Sanhedrin brought Jesus to Pilate on Friday morning after their night-long trial, he clearly did not want to get involved until they insisted that Jesus was guilty of a capital crime and accused him of crime against the Roman emperor - especially of claiming that he himself was a King - their Messiah.

Pilate's interrogation of Jesus is described in all four Gospels with each writer supplying various details.  It is John's gospel, however, that describes it most vividly:

          "So Pilate entered the Praetorium again and called Jesus and said to him, 'Are you the King of the Jews?'
          Jesus answered, 'Do you say this on your own or did others tell you about me?'
          Pilate answered, 'I'm not a Jew, am I?  Your own people and their chief priests handed you over to me!  What have you done?'
          Jesus answered, 'My Kingdom isn't of this world.  If my Kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But now my Kingdom is not from here.'
          Thus Pilate said to him, 'So then you are a king?'
          Jesus answered, 'You say that I am a king.  For this reason I was born and for this reason I came into the world, that I might testify to the truth!  Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.'
          Pilate says to him, 'What is truth?!!'''  (John 18:35-38a)

We can almost hear the frustration in Pilate's voice - perhaps anger - at the Jewish accusers, at Jesus.  He had found himself in a dilemma.  Shall he free an innocent man and anger the Sanhedrin or should he simply go along with them?  After all, to Pilate, Jesus was just another Jew, another provincial.  Pilate had disposed of a number of them in the past.  One more would seem to be no problem.  Or would it?  Does Pilate perhaps recognize that the man standing before him is more than just one more provincial?  Does he suspect that Jesus just may be the person his accusers said he was falsely claiming to be?

Both Luke 23:4 and John 18:38b tell us that at this point Pilates gives his verdict:  "I find no guilt in this man!"

It is probably at this point that Pilate, upon hearing that Jesus is from Galilee, sends him to Herod Antipas, who after mocking him, returns him to Pilate with no decision (Luke 23:5-12).  Luke tells us that Pilate now for the second time pronounces a Not guilty! verdict and offers to chastise and release Jesus (Luke 23:13-16).  All four Gospels tell us that the crowd at this time demands that Jesus be crucified and that Pilate release Barabbas, an insurrectionist and murderer.

In the meantime Pilate had received word from his wife, "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man.  I've suffered a lot today from a dream about him!"  (Matthew 27:19)  As the crowd continues to demand Barabbas' release and Jesus' crucifixion, we can almost hear Pilate screaming as he says, "Why?  What evil has he done?"  (Matthew 27:23)
 
Pilate appears to be doing all he can to save Jesus from the death penalty.  He has Jesus scourged; the soldiers mock him and plant a crown of thorns on his head.  Pilate has him again brought out to the crowd, bloodstained and beaten, and we hear Pilate's shout, "Behold the Man!"  (John 19:5)  Could it be that Pilate is hoping this will satisfy the bloodlust of the crowd?  He twice again pronounces Jesus not guilty!  But when the priests continue to demand his death, Pilate gives in and says, "Take him and crucify him yourselves!"

At this point the priests come up with a new accusation:  "We have a law and according to that law, he needs to die because he made himself out to be the Son of God!"  (John 19:7)

John tells us here that, "When Pilate heard this accusation, he became even more afraid" (19:8).  While it may be doubted that Pilate was a religious or superstitious man, he was a Roman and the gods would have been a part of his culture.  Myths of gods taking human form would have been familiar to him.  Add to this mix the fact that he had been in the center of Judaism for a number of years and must have gained some knowledge of their belief in the Invisible God with an unutterable Name.  And then there was his wife's dream.  Certainly the frightening possibility must have crossed his mind that he, Pilate had been forced into trying an earthly representative of a God much more powerful and frightening than his own.  So he again returns to the Praetorium with Jesus.

          "'Where are you from?' he said to Jesus.  But Jesus didn't give an answer.
          So Pilate says to him, 'Aren't you talking to me?  Don't you know that I have the authority to release you and I have the authority to crucify you?!'
          Jesus answered him, 'You'd have no authority over me if it hadn't been given you from above.  Because of this, the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin!'"  (John 19:9-11)
          We're told that after this, "Pilate was seeking to release him." But the Jewish leaders had one more trump card, "If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend! Everyone who makes himself a king is opposed to Caesar."  (19:12)

It was apparently these words that caused Pilate to cave in. "Friend of Caesar" was probably an official title that Pilate had, one that provided privilege.  Pilate was already in hot water because of his previous acts against the Jews and the fall of his patron.  This could be the final straw.  A Jewish complaint to Rome could lead to his losing his position, even (literally) getting the axe.  It was no longer the question of Jesus or Barabbas, but of Jesus or Pilate!

But Pilate makes one more effort:  he presents Jesus to the crowd with a shout, "Behold your King!"  When they shout louder for Jesus to be crucified, we can hear Pilate  pleading?  Shouting?  Screaming?  "Shall I crucify your King?"  to which the chief priests reply, "We have no King but Caesar!"  (19:14, 15)

Matthew tells us that Pilate also feared a riot, and that he "took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, 'I am innocent of this man's blood!  See to it yourselves!'" to which they answered "His blood be on us and our children!" (Matthew 27:24, 25)
And Pilate handed Jesus over to them to be crucified.  But Pilate did get the final word.  While all the Gospels tell us that the charge for Jesus' crime which was nailed to the cross over his head, said, "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews," John tells us, "The chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, 'Don't write The King of the Jews, but that he said I am the King of the Jews.'  Pilate said, 'What I have written, I have written!'"  (John 19:21, 22)
This in no way, of course, justifies Pilate's actions.  The early disciples recognized that there was enough blame to go around.  An early prayer recorded in the Book of Acts names "Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the people of Israel" as those who "were gathered together against (God's) holy servant Jesus" (Acts 4:27).  That's pretty all inclusive.
We in our day may justly put blame on Pontius Pilate; it's easy for us to do.  It's easy to think of him as an evil, unprincipled man, one willing to condemn an innocent man - our Savior - to save his own skin.  But if I may, I'd like to imagine Pilate addressing us as he wipes his hands:
"I had to do it.  I had no other option, did I?  What do you suppose would have happened to me if I had released Jesus?  The Jewish Sanhedrin would have accused me to Caesar himself.  I would surely have lost my position that I had worked so hard to attain.  It could even have cost me my life.  I wasn't willing to take that risk.
After all, I have a wife and family to look out for.  That's important, isn't it?  I've got to keep my job - and sometimes that requires compromise doesn't it?  Am I really that different from you 21st century American Christians?  Or maybe I should ask, are you really different from me?  I looked out for number one.  Don't you do the same?
My gods are made of bronze, granite and plaster.  You claim to worship the God who made the universe.
To me Jesus was just another provincial - expendable if necessary. You claim him as the Son of God, as your Savior, as your Lord.  You claim to have surrendered your all to him.
But what if those claims could cost you your life?  Your family?  Your job?  Your comfort? Would you behave any differently than I did?  Or would you too wash your hands of Jesus Christ?
Think about it!"

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

CHRIST AMONG THE PHOBES

A current fad among those who are enamored of new words, is the attaching of "-phobia," "-phobic" or "-phobe" as suffixes to certain words or word fragments. Thus our current usage includes "homophobia" (fear of homosexuality or of homosexuals), "Islamophobia" (fear of Islam or Muslims) and a few others of which I have not yet heard. These words are usually used negatively to describe those who differ politically or religiously, regarding their supposedly bigoted attitudes toward homosexuals, Muslims or whatever.

I personally strongly dislike the use of the words and hesitate to use them myself. I feel that these words are often themselves expressions of bigotry by the user. Not everyone who has misgivings or negative convictions regarding homosexuality or Islam is a bigot.

Thus when the words "Christianophobia" or "religiophobia" occasionally pop into my head while reading or listening to criticisms of Christianity, I stifle myself from using them. So when I saw an article in Christianity Today online, entitled "What Christianophobia Looks Like In America" by George Yancey, 3/27/15, I was intrigued.

George Yancey is a professor of sociology at the University of North Texas and author of ­So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States? I have not read his book, but I suppose the article pretty well sums up his thesis.

The article appears reasonably unbiased. Yancey speaks of the fact that Christianity's cultural dominance in America is fading, even though most Americans still identify as Christians. He attempts to look at the problem from both sides: the "growing animosity" toward especially conservative Protestants, and the growing fears among these, of their supposed increasing loss of religious freedom. He mentions surveys in which conservative Christians are rated lower than other groups, excepting Atheists.

Yancey points out that these negative rankings come from "a disproportionate number of white, highly educated, politically progressive and wealthy respondents." He says, "The fear part of this definition came from respondents who saw conservative Christians as a dark force seeking to take over society and impose Christian rule.  "Some," he tells us, see Christians as "similar to the Taliban or Nazis," seeking "to impose a theocracy on a secular nation."

These Americans hostile to Christianity see Christians in "two categories:  foolish, ignorant followers and manipulative leaders." Christianophobes do not want to do away with Christians, they simply want them to - as one said - "Keep all religion in your church, in your home, out of the public square, and most of all, out of my face."

Yancey's solutions to the problem seem to me rather disappointing and simplistic.  I'd hope that his book expands on and elaborates the options.  In the last paragraph of the article he merely challenges Christians "to convince such individuals that they have the same rights to influence the public square as anyone else" and to learn "how to communicate, and hopefully find ways to co-exist."

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I feel that the greatest need here is not for arguments to convince Christianophobes of the error of their views, but for convincing my fellow-Christians, myself included, of the necessity for self examination, for asking ourselves what we are doing to bring about these negative views.

We must recognize first of all that since the beginning, Christianity has been viewed negatively by those on the outside. Jesus said, "Do you suppose that I have come to bring peace on the earth? No, I tell you - but division" (Luke 12:15).  "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me first" (John 15:18). Paul spoke of "the scandal of the cross" (Galatians 5:11). We who follow Christ should recognize that many oppose Christianity for its claims of exclusivity, sometimes for its morality, sometimes for various theological reasons or misunderstandings.

However, these are not the complaints mentioned in Yancey's article. As I said earlier, not everyone who has misgivings or negative convictions regarding homosexuality or Islam is a bigot.  And neither is everyone who has those same thoughts about Christianity - at least as Christianity is perceived. And that's the problem. We Christians have managed to paint a picture of Christianity that looks very little like the Christianity of the New Testament - very little like Jesus.

First of all, there's the label.  While the label "conservative" is often used of our way of interpreting the Bible - i.e., "conservative" = "literal" as opposed to some radical "liberal" critical interpretations, it is understood by most outsiders as a political word.

And there are many "conservative Christians" who understood the phrase as such. To them Christian = Republican. When Christian leaders and Christian colleges endorse Republican candidates for president, when they endorse the Republican - and even worse, the Tea-Party platform, they present a Christianity that is a false Christianity, a Christianity that promotes Christianophobia.

When Christianity is presented as moralism, as an opposition to particular types of sin - often only the two "biggies" - abortion and gay lifestyle/marriage, it is a false Christianity. Yes sin should be recognized as sin, but there is a danger when only particular sins are pointed out and when the solution to these is sought through imposing moral standards on others through the political process.

We have allowed the Gospel of Christ, the love of Christ, the ethics of Christ, to be pre-empted by a vapid semi-political religion.  When I see this, when I hear this type of Christianity coming from Christian leaders, I confess that I too am tempted into becoming a Christianophobe.

I recognize that many - probably most, who claim the label of Christian, are living lives that exemplify the reality of Christianity.  I only ask and pray that all of us would - or if not, to stop calling themselves by the Name.

"Keep your conduct beautiful among the Gentiles, so that though they verbally put you down as evildoers, they may, by seeing your beautiful works, glorify God on the day that He returns" (1 Peter 2:12).

Father, help us as those who name the Name of Your Son, to live lives like His, lives of love, lives that would bring honor to Him and not shame.

Friday, March 6, 2015

WE'LL MISS YOU JON


For years, Uni and have followed The Daily Show, a satirical "news" program, hosted by comedian Jon Stewart.  When Stewart announced he was going to leave his program, we asked each other, "Where will we go for our news?"  Though there are plenty of news programs on the air, we felt that there will be a huge gap in coverage.

An article in The Week magazine (2/27/15, page 16) gave various views on the program's demise, and I suppose these comments are an honest sampling.  Though some recognized the contribution Stewart made, many seemed to be simply saying "good riddance."
Stewart was a master of satire, skewering not only politicians, but also other news coverage and commentary (and Arby's).  One of his favorite, and I believe most effective routines was to take some self-righteous pronouncement of a politician or pundit and to throw on the screen the many totally contradictory (but just as righteous) pronouncements they had made previously.  Of course, most of his attacks were on those of the right but he especially loved to attack Fox (Faux) News, whose "newspersons" seem to always have something stupid to say.  Some have even wondered if Fox News was really set up just to supply him with material.
He clearly hated pomposity and hypocrisy and loved shredding those who were masters of those arts - Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity.  And he enjoyed airing their "defenses" against him.
One commentator who claims to be "one of those liberal Millennials" quoted in The Week article said he was "glad to see Stewart go."  He said that "Stewart's sneering dismissal of all politicians was a form of 'anti-politics' in which sophisticated debate over genuine ideological differences take a back seat to snark, and the only correct response to our national dysfunction is cynicism."  Apparently this person failed to watch whole programs, every one of which always included an interview with some well-known person.  Though many movie stars and comedians had their place, as often as these, Stewart was visited by leading people of America and the world - authors, congressmen, presidents, presidential candidates, many with "genuine ideological differences."  And there was "sophisticated debate."
I don't always agree with Jon Stewart.  There are many times I that wince at his criticisms of opinions that I hold closely.  But they are usually fair, even to religious people.  And I also wince at his crude language and his 5th grade level sexual and bathroom humor.
Another complaint in the article was that Stewart's audience is small and includes mostly "young, East Coast liberals" or "Millennials."  However there are a few of us mid-American old geezers who watch.  We certainly won't get this kind of coverage on the networks or 24-hour "news" channels.
We'll miss you Jon!!!