Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Rev 12: 17 – 18
This is day 5 of the Novena to St Michael. We are praying for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters around the world.
Our Lord was crucified by a group of corrupt priests and a cowardly politician. Yesterday, we looked at the cowardly politician. Today, let’s meditate on the corrupt priests.
The Levitical priesthood of Jesus’ day was corrupt. It had become a priesthood that, as Jesus said, does not practice what it preaches.
This was so widespread that Jesus bluntly warned His followers to beware the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
He went on with a warning that nothing that is covered up that will not be known, which was a frightening warning for those with the good sense to heed it that all our pretenses to goodness will be shown for the pretense they are when we stand before God.
Both Jesus and John the Baptist before Him denounced this corrupt priesthood in unforgettable language. When the priests went to where John the Baptist was baptizing people, he said Brood of vipers! Who told you to flee the coming wrath?
Our Lord was no gentler in His condemnation of them. He repeatedly called them Hypocrites … blind guides … snakes … brood of vipers … white washed tombs that on the outside are beautiful but inside are full of corruption.
The Levitical priesthood was corrupt. It had become a collaborator with the Roman conquerors to keep the people down. It used its power to interpret the Law of Moses to create new and more difficult regulations that it heaped on an impoverished and suffering people. These priests lorded it over the people of God. They used the law to punish and batter them.
At the same time, the priests themselves lived large on the Roman beneficence. They did not follow the harsh laws they put on the people. Their faith was performance art, not faith. They demanded that the people that God had raised up and led through the desert to this land bow down to them and their pretend holiness.
They were, in Jesus’ words, blind guides.
His description of them to his disciples would fit any fallen priest or clergy today:
… they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
Their priesthood was for themselves, not God and certainly not God’s people.
Jesus condemned them as He condemned no one else. He diagnosed their spiritual poverty in a series of condemnations, beginning each condemning diagnosis with the words Woe to you, teachers of the law and pharisees.
At the end of this long diagnosis of their fallen priesthood, He cursed them by prophesying:
You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.
This was God made Man, speaking to His own failed priests. It is sobering beyond sobering how God deals with corrupt priests.
It was also inevitable that they would try to kill him. While the people suffered under Roman rule, the priests had a good deal. They lorded it over the people and lived lives of luxury off the Roman fat. They weren’t doing good. They were doing well.
In one of the most chilling passages in Scripture, they discussed what to do about this Jesus the people were following, how to end this threat to their sovereignty and good times.
It appears that they lied, even to one another. Rather than just say the truth that they hated Jesus for exposing them for what they were and they feared His influence with the people, they made up a fantasy about the necessity of committing murder to “save the people.”
Caiaphas, the chief priest, concluded the discussion by telling the others It is better for one man to die than the whole nation.
This is how murderers justify murder, by claiming that they are doing something fine and necessary with their killing. But in the end murder is always about one thing: Me.
Caiaphas took it a step further:
He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
In other words, he used his full authority as chief priest, as the religious leader who interceded with God for God’s people, to promulgate this plan to murder Christ the Lord.
In this he was no different from religious leaders today who stand before crowds or go on television and incite their followers to murder and persecute the Body of Christ in the person of His followers. They, like Caiaphas, are using their power as priests to murder innocence.
Shakespeare famously said, Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.
Jesus put it differently when He said, To those whom much is given, much is required.
Priests and religious leaders have been given much. They are entrusted first with the souls of many other people. They are also entrusted with the understanding of God in this world.
Their smell when they become corrupt is associated in people’s minds with God Himself.
These corrupt priests who Jesus said, Shut the door of heaven in people’s faces, had already turned their backs on God when Jesus began His ministry. Their priesthood was all about them, their power and the respect they loved to receive.
But they entered history and became the manifestation of what a fallen priesthood is when they set themselves the task of procuring the judicial murder of God Himself.
The Scriptures do not tell us that God warned these priests as He did Pilate. So far as we know, He sent no dreams to tell them what they were doing was wrong. He didn’t have to. They, unlike Pilate, had the law and the prophets. They knew beyond doubt that they were committing murder.
They denied what they didn’t want to see: That Jesus was divine. They were, as He told them, the spiritual descendants of those earlier corrupt priests who had murdered the prophets.
It is better for one man to die than the whole nation, Caiaphas said.
How will you escape being condemned to hell? Jesus asked him.
He is asking that same question of the religious leaders in various countries around the world who use their power over people to instigate the persecution of Christians.
It cannot be said too many times that persecuted Christians are Christ crucified in today’s world.
Religious leaders who lead their followers in the almost unfathomable sin of attacking, persecuting and murdering Christ’s followers because they are Christ’s followers are these same Pharisees. The same satan who inspired them then, whispers calls to hate and kill in the ears of their descendants today.
How will you escape being condemned to hell? Jesus asked.
The question applies just as much to corrupt and fallen clergy today as it did when He first said it 2,000 years ago.
Here is the Novena to St Michael for the Persecuted Church, Day 5. Please pray it and ask others to join you.
Glorious Saint Michael, guardian and defender of the Church of Jesus Christ, come to the assistance of His followers, against whom the powers of hell are unchained. Guard with special care our Holy Father, the Pope, and our bishops, priests, all our religious and lay people, and especially the children. Saint Michael, watch over us during life, defend us against the assaults of the demon, and assist us especially at the hour of death. Help us achieve the happiness of beholding God face to face for all eternity. Amen. Saint Michael, intercede for me with God in all my necessities, especially for the conversion of the world,that from pole to pole,dateline to dateline,all will call out Jesus' name. Obtain for me a favourable outcome in the matter I recommend to you. Mighty prince of the heavenly host, and victor over rebellious spirits, remember me for I am weak and sinful and so prone to pride and ambition. Be for me, I pray, my powerful aid in temptation and difficulty, and above all do not forsake me in my last struggle with the powers of evil. Amen.