Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Reluctant One

I came, I saw, I did nothing -- and that is my greatest shame. Somewhere, deep inside, I think I knew the truth a long, long time before that crucial day when I finally admitted it, but the fact is that I didn’t want to know, didn’t want to have my comfortable world disordered and disrupted. And I especially dreaded the condemnation of my fellow Jewish leaders. I had far too much to lose. In short, I was afraid. But if I didn’t know the truth, then how can I explain my preoccupation – no, make that total fascination – with that man?

Oh yes I came – again and again and again I came, to stand on the verge of the crowd and watch and listen. At first I came with my fellow-members of the Sanhedrin – that was part of our legitimate business, to check out a new teacher, but then I couldn’t stay away. I was careful, either I would quietly be there with a group of other Jewish leaders, or I would hide myself in the midst of a large crowd, on the same principle as hiding a leaf in a forest. Dressed in un-ostentatious clothing, I would not be noticed or recognised among so many. But I think Jesus knew, a couple of times he looked straight at me, almost as if he had deliberately sought for me, and I felt as if his searching eyes could see every secret conflict of my soul.

And conflict it surely was. His teaching made so much sense – he talked about God comforting the mourners and giving victory to the meek, and looking below the surface to see whether our hearts, not just our visible actions, were guilty of lust and murder and unbelief. He spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, and it was like a fresh breeze blowing through my soul, overturning all the musty formalism of my world – a kingdom of righteousness and justice, growing as inexorably as the leaven works its way through the dough. And when he spoke of God, the loving father who welcomes the wanderer home, who sends out an invitation, right across the universe, to let go of our religious foolishness, and come back to Himself, I could feel that same invitation tugging at my heart.

And that is not even to mention what I saw – the sick healed, the hungry miraculously fed, the blind and the deaf made whole. I even saw the dead raised to life again. What right has any man to doubt after seeing so much?

But I was afraid. I had lived my life secure and comfortable, a member of the Jewish religious elite with a secure place in the system and the approval and acceptance of my fellows. And I knew how vicious they were to those who did not conform. I was not ready to take the risk, and my heart was torn. Even when I overheard fragments that suggested they were plotting to kill him, I still held my peace, though my heart was sick within me. I was immobilised, in thought and action by my dread, as if some terrible sickness had bound up my mind and heart.

It was only when I saw him hanging there, dying on that terrible cross, that I was released, only to find myself in a different kind of sickness – an absolute horror at my own cowardice, and the way in which it had all played out. Then, in the midst of my despair, I heard him cry out “Father, forgive them ..” and when I looked up, from the distance where I stood, I imagined (for no one could see clearly in such darkness) that he was looking straight at me, with a pity that understood me and loved me even in my brokenness. I was glad of the darkness then, for no one could see my tears.

When it was all over, I asked Pilate’s permission to take his body for burial. With reverent sorrow I laid his body in the tomb I had bought for myself. He did not need it for very long.

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