Thursday, February 14, 2008

An unsuccessful cover-up

Today's New Testament reading starts on Easter morning. The previous Friday, Joseph of Arimathea had placed Jesus's body in a tomb and rolled a big stone in front of the entrance (Matthew 27:58-60). Sunday morning, two women...
...went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angle of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
Matthew 28:1-4
I certainly can't blame the guards, as I'm sure they had never encountered anything like this before.

The angel gives the women some information and instructions, and they also meet Jesus himself. But I want to focus on what happens next with the guards.
[S]ome of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.
At this point in the story, a part of me hopes that the chief priests will slap their foreheads and cry out, "Holy smokes, guys, we've been wrong about this guy! He really was who he said he was! We'd better pray and ask God what to do!" (These guys are supposed to be priests of God for crying out loud!) Alas...
When the chief priests had met with the elders... they gave the soldiers... money, telling them, "You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble."
from Matthew 28:11-14 (inset added)
The guards really did have something to worry about, as they would normally have been executed (see Acts 12:18-19 for example). But these chief priests and elders -- what were they thinking?

Whatever it was, I'm quite certain they didn't turn from earnest intercessors into God-deniers, from seekers of truth to purveyors of lies, overnight. They didn't, in other words, wake up one morning and say, "Yeah, I've had a career of representing people to God, but I'm going to chuck it all today and instead become a political shark, without changing my clothes."

No, they took little steps away from integrity toward compromise, away from the rarified air of the priestly calling and toward the comfort of status, prestige, power.

Most of us don't have the ability to go around corrupting government officials, but we certainly can corrupt ourselves. How often have you or I excused our own self-pitying thoughts or self-indulgent actions? How long has it been since the last time we spoke an unkind word or slighted someone we thought beneath ourselves?

So let us beware -- it's all too easy to wake up one morning, see a stranger in the mirror, and wonder how we got that way. A day at a time, a small step at a time -- that's how. As the Apostle Paul wrote: "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 7:24-25)

The other bit of good news is that if we seek him, we'll find him (as the Lord promised the Israelites in Jeremiah 29) and that he will forgive (Isaiah 55:5-8) and clean us up (1 John 1:9).

Which is good news!
posted 2008-12-20

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