Our Lenten Gospel today begins by saying that Jesus didn’t travel to Judea because there was a group of people trying to kill him. This is one of several instances where the author reveals to the reader how a group of people are out to get Jesus. The attitude among Jesus’ enemies suggested that if Jesus could just be bumped off, life could be more predictable and they could get back to business as usual. Jesus’ words and teachings highly influenced the common people. Yet at the same time these same words confronted the dishonesty of the religious leaders, who had grown very comfortable with their untruthfulness. Impressive to me, as the gospel continues, is Jesus’ testimony to his Father even with the thoughts of death becoming a reality.
I’ve had a strongly similar inclination this Lenten season in praying the Stations of the Cross. For some reason, the final two stations: station thirteen when Jesus is taken down from the cross and station fourteen, when Jesus’ body is laid in the tom, have both left me with a similar sentiment. The religious leaders and the Romans are out of the picture. Jesus is no more a threat to them and having achieved their task the Sadducee’s can go back to life the way they want it to be. For them, Jesus was a trouble maker who got in the way of their authority and challenged their moral code.
On a personal level, I’m left wondering about the times of past attitudes where I pondered fantasies of the grandiose lifestyle I would be living if I didn’t believe in Jesus or didn’t have a desire to follow his teachings. If Jesus wasn’t part of my life, I know I would be justifying actions to get ahead, to make money, to push the envelope even at the expense of others. At a simplistic level, if Jesus isn’t in the picture, then why I should return my neighbor’s property I borrowed last fall?
On the level of humanity I see this attitude flowing into weekly events in the news. When I hear stories of price gouging, mountain top removal, chemical dumping, genocide, human experimentation where greed has taken over and the person being interviewed simply says that they, “didn’t do anything illegal.” While it may not have violated a specific code of law, it was far from a moral code that thinks beyond one’s selfishness. They may have not done anything illegal, but their actions have rippled waves of destruction even into future generations. The bottom line is how easy it is to justify our actions and behaviors if we get Jesus out of the picture.
It certainly isn’t a new idea. Today the book of Wisdom reminds us that this mode of thinking has been going on for centuries even before Jesus’ birth. “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings.” If we don’t have to act out of justice, if we govern our lives by the things we personally desire to give us personal fulfillment, temporary happiness, or false security, and we selfishly make these decisions without any consideration of others, then we are probably in pretty sinful place as we justify our behaviors. When we are in a good place we know how erroneous this thinking can become. But when we are in that self-centered place it is truly difficult to see our blindedness. The first reading concludes, “These were their thoughts, but they erred; for their wickedness blinded them.”
To me, as a Passionist, this is where the cross of Jesus comes back into the picture. When I look at the cross I can’t push Jesus out of the picture. In a real tangible way, Jesus once again is my savior, saving me from my sinfulness. The first week of Lent I did something a little unconventional. I walked through the Stations of the Cross backwards. Rather than start with Pilate and Jesus being condemned to death, I started at station fourteen when Jesus was finally out of the picture. I never made it past station eleven, when Jesus is nailed to the Cross. I stood there thinking about times we have pushed Jesus out of the picture, and the salvation of Jesus on the cross. And I understood salvation in a whole new way.
I pray you are having a blessed Lent.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Louisville, Kentucky.