Jesus was not brought down by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God’s will from their own. Temple police are always a bad sign. When chaplains start wearing guns and hanging out at the sheriff’s office, watch out. Someone is about to have no king but Caesar.
This is a story that can happen anywhere at anytime, and we are as likely to be the perpetrators as the victims. I doubt that many of us will end up playing Annas, Caiaphas or Pilate, however. They may have been the ones who gave Jesus the death sentence, but a large part of him had already died before they ever got to him--the part Judas killed off, then Peter, then all those who fled. Those are the roles with our names on them--not the enemies but the friends.
Whenever someone famous gets in trouble, that is one of the first things the press focuses on. What do his friends do? Do they support him or do they tell reporters that, unfortunately, they had seen trouble coming for some time? One of the worst things a friend can say is what Peter said. We weren’t friends, exactly. Acquaintances might be a better word. Actually, we just worked together. For the same company, I mean. Not together, just near each other. My desk was near his. I really don’t know him at all.
No one knows what Judas said. In John’s Gospel he does not say a word, but where he stands says it all. After he has led some 200 Roman soldiers and the temple police to the secret garden where Jesus is praying, Judas stands with the militia. Even when Jesus comes forward to identify himself, Judas does not budge. He is on the side with the weapons and the handcuffs, and he intends to stay there.
Or maybe it was not his own safety that motivated him. Maybe he just fell out of love with Jesus. That happens sometimes. One day you think someone is wonderful and the next day he says or does something that makes you think twice. He reminds you of the difference between the two of you and you start hating him for that--for the difference--enough to begin thinking of some way to hurt him back.
I remember being at a retreat once where the leader asked us to think of someone who represented Christ in our lives. When it came tie to share our answers, one woman stood up and said, “I had to think hard about that one. I kept thinking, Who is it that told me the truth about myself so clearly that I wanted to kill him for it?” According to John, Jesus died because he told the truth to everyone he met. He was the truth, a perfect mirror in which people saw themselves in God’s own light.
What happened then goes on happening now. In the presence of his integrity, our own pretense is exposed. In the presence of his constancy, our cowardice is brought to light.
Barbara Brown Taylor, “Truth to Tell,” from “The Perfect Mirror,” copyright 1998 Christian Century Foundation., 89-92.