One of the favorite games of non-Christians seems to be passing the buck. What I mean is that in the lives of both Jesus and Paul, no one seemed to want to take responsibility for dealing with them.
“Who do men say that I am?” Jesus asked. Peter then recited a number of the “good” but not true answers. Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
Those answers sound so pious don’t they? Far be it from me to judge the souls of men dead 2000 years, but they also sound calculated and safe to me. Such answers would clearly identify their proclaimers as pious and religious people, without the nasty side effect of them having to make a definitive statement about the true nature of Jesus.
At the end of Jesus’ life, Pilate tried hard to get rid of Jesus. Oh so hard! First, he says that he finds no fault in the man. That should have been the end of it. But to truly live by even this simple judgment would have required Pilate to pay a price he wasn’t willing to pay. Then, as soon as he found that Jesus was a Galilean, he sent Him packing to Herod.
Herod had heard many things about Jesus and hoped to see Him perform a miracle. He must have thought it very possible that Jesus could indeed do miracles, and yet this knowledge in his mind apparently didn’t require him to think much more about who this Jesus must have been. But when Herod didn’t get what he wanted out of Jesus, a parlor trick to amuse him and his court I suppose, he reverted to the true position of those who don’t accept Jesus: he treated him with contempt and mocked Him. Herod’s men of war joined in: yet another group of those who rejected Jesus.
When Pilate received Jesus back, the passed buck having been passed back to him like a hot potato, he thought that by having the Jews release a prisoner they just might choose Jesus, and he could be rid of his little problem. When they chose the murderer and criminal Barabbas, he proclaimed Him guiltless and yet sent Him to be chastised anyway. “See,” Pilate said in effect, “I am both pronouncing Him innocent and also pleasing me. I knew there had to be a way to do it!”
In the end, such men always deliver Jesus up, and no matter how many times they wash their hands, like Lady Macbeth, the damned spot won’t come out!
In the life of St. Paul, who recapitulates the life of Jesus His Master, we also see him getting passed around. First by the Jews, then Happy Felix, then Festus, then Agrippa, and ultimately Caesar. But none of them truly engage Paul for who he is, which is a messenger from Jesus Christ Himself. Being a disciple not above his Master, Paul receives the same treatment that his Lord did.
Thus it has always been, and thus it will always be. It’s no different today, with one exception that I’ll come to. Those who reject Jesus Christ will sometimes directly blaspheme and reject Him. More commonly, they like to cover their backsides. And so you’ll hear that Jesus was a good man and a good teacher, but not, of course, God Himself. You’ll hear what Jesus said about social justice (with a 21st century secular spin, no doubt), but not about that He is the only way or the only Name under heaven whereby men must be saved.
The one difference between our situation and the first century situation is in the percentage of men who try to have it both ways. In the first century, in spite of those I’ve portrayed as trying to pay lip service to Jesus, most were clearly willing to oppose Him directly. Why not? Rome and Jerusalem were allied against Him.But today in America it’s still pretty convenient culturally to claim Jesus Christ. It’s easy to say you are a Christian: as of 2001, 76.5% of Americans identified themselves as Christians (http://www.gc.cuny.edu/faculty/research_briefs/aris/key_findings.htm). Look around you, though: do you see 230 million people thinking, talking, and acting like Christians? In 2001, 41% of Americans could be considered born-again. (Born agains said, “Yes” to the 2 following questions: “Have you ever made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today?” “When I die, I will go to Heaven because I have confessed my sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as my savior.” See http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=Topic&TopicID=8)
Look around: do you see 120 million people thinking, talking, and acting like born-again Christians?
Given the peculiar nature of America as a nation of self-proclaimed Christians and given the moral and spiritual problems of the day, our American problems are largely problems for the American churches. “We have found the enemy, and he is us,” as that great sage Pogo Possum once said.
When I consider myself, I realize pretty quickly that I can’t let myself off the hook either. I, too, live too much of my life as if Jesus Christ is innocuous and irrelevant. I, too, am capable of acknowledging Him with my lips and not with my life.
But now that I’ve thought about it and God has touched my lips and life today with His glowing ember, I will not choose that path. I will choose to consciously emulate both Jesus Christ and St. Paul, and not to unconsciously follow We the sheeple of the United States.
No matter what the Felixes, Festuses, Agrippas, or Jerusalem Jews say, I will courageously proclaim Jesus Christ today to be the Savior of the World, the only way to the Father, and the Son of God, fully man and fully God!
Prayer: I stand before You and the world today, O Father, proclaiming that I
believe You are one God, the Father, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ Your only Son my Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I proclaim that I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the Communion of Saints; the Forgiveness of sins; the Resurrection of the body, and the Life everlasting.
By Your grace may I live and speak today in light of what I believe and proclaim. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
- Are there parts of your life where you make compromises with your Lord and faith in Him?
- What steps could you take today to make your recognition and proclamation of your Lord more visible and vibrant today?
Resolution: I resolve to find one way to more faithfully acknowledge or proclaim my Lord today.
Paul and King Agrippa – U.S. Public Domain