The Easter-story in the Gospels reveals a lot about the corruption of human motives. It is easy to focus on how Jesus's friends let Him down in His hour of need, when they all ran away. There is nothing complicated about their reaction to the crisis of Jesus's arrest and condemnation - they just ran away for fear of their own lives. They were on Jesus's side until cowardice destroyed their loyalty.
But what about Judas who betrayed Jesus? Did he do it just for the money? Was he trying to use his powerful contacts to force Jesus into decisive action? Had he become disillusioned with Jesus and was 'out to get Him'? We simply don't know. But whatever he was trying to do it all went terribly wrong, and he "went out and hanged himself". Judas was on his own side, pursuing his own agenda.
Look at Caiaphas the Jewish High-priest. His priority was the preservation of the uneasy compromise between the Jewish establishment and the occupying Roman forces, on which his own status and power and wealth depended. Any religious unrest would put all this in jeopardy. Jesus threatened it, and therefore Jesus had to be got rid off . "It is expedient that one man should die for the nation", Caiaphas said quite openly. It would be easy enough to have Him killed in some dark alley, but it would be better if He were disgraced - hence the collusion with the Romans to have Jesus crucified - so that no-one would ever take His teaching seriously, and it would soon be forgotten. Caiaphas wanted people to think that his concern was for the 'big picture', but it was really only a cloak to preserve his own influence and prestige. Caiaphas was on the side of power.
Or look at Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, the embodiment of Roman justice. He recognized that Jesus was an innocent man who was being framed by influential people. But he also recognized that if he tried to do what justice demanded he would probably have an uprising on his hands, and that would mark the end of his political career. What was one peasant religious teacher, after all? And all down the ages, the "little people" have been sacrificed because their rights prove too costly or inconvenient for the people in power. Pilate was on the side of taking the easy way out.
And the fickle crowd. One day they greeted Jesus as a hero; a few days later they were baying for His blood, whipped up by a few agitators in the pay of the religious authorities. Whose side were they on?
That's the question the story of Jesus's sufferings and death force us to face: whose side are we on? Do we have sound moral principles which we struggle to uphold even if it costs us dearly? Or are we concerned only for an easy life? Or are up for the highest bidder? The Easter story brings all our secrets out into the open. But it doesn't stop there. After Easter the risen Jesus appeared again, alive, not to the people of power but to His own friends, and transformed their lives. The ones who ran away became the ones who travelled to distant lands to tell others about what Jesus had done for them, and almost to a man suffered cruel deaths rather than deny Him again. That is the wonder of Easter, the wonder of the new life which the resurrection of Jesus has released into our world.
But the question remains, "Whose side are you on?"
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About the Vicar's Letter
The Vicar's Letter has been appearing in the villages Focus magazine since August 2002.
The Rev. Peter Graham also used to publish The Vicar's Letter in the parish magazine of 1964. Please see the Vicar's Letter area for these.