04 May 2011

Two trials, one verdict

Second Week of Easter (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula

While the members of the Sanhedrin are convening to try the apostles, whom they believe to be imprisoned, the apostles themselves are out in the temple area preaching and teaching. Having been freed the night before by an angel and told, “Go and take your place in the temple area, and tell the people everything about this life,” the apostles are out doing exactly that—telling their stories. We don't have the texts of these stories, but it's not too much to imagine that they are preaching something like, “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” While they preach, the Sanhedrin is preparing to render a verdict on the apostles' heresy, yet God's verdict on those who choose to remain in darkness has already been rendered, “And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.” In one day, we have two trials conducted under the authority of God's Word; one, under the Law of Moses heard by a jury of men; and another under the Law of Love where Christ himself sits as judge and jury. The proof of innocence for both trials is a straightforward principle of holy transparency: “. . .whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” 

From what we know of Jesus' encounters with his religious enemies, it's safe to say that the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, etc. have a great deal of difficulty wrapping their minds around the notion that one's behavior as a child of God must be a reflection of one's actual relationship with God. Acting holy in public is a necessary but not a sufficient way to be truly righteous. It's almost as if it is better to behave poorly if your relationship with God is poor than it is to pretend to be holy when you aren't. Jesus frequently calls his enemies “hypocrites” b/c they fake a relationship with God that they do not have. One lie is compounded by another. This is a problem for all the obvious reasons and for one that might not be so obvious. If you are to be tried for unrighteousness by a jury of men, the only evidence they have to judge you is your behavior. They don't know and can't know your heart, your interior disposition toward God. Because of this deficiency, Christ says over and over again that our words and deeds, our thoughts and intentions must match. If head and heart are properly aligned with God's will for us, then no verdict of mere mortals is ever permanent. The only verdict that matters is the one Christ himself rendered on the Cross. We are not-guilty by reason of having been loved by God into redemption.

The apostles are freed from prison by an angel not b/c they are sinless or extra, extra holy. They are freed b/c the Good News of God's mercy—a mercy they have experienced for themselves—must be testified to, given witness to. Legally, they are guilty of heresy, and by the Law they should be in prison. But the Law of Love grants them mercy so that they can go out and do the work Christ gave them to do. This isn't an argument for secular lawlessness but rather a way for us to understand how head and heart must work within God's will to preach and teach His Good News. Essentially, the apostles are imprisoned for failing to be good hypocrites, for failing to separate their behaviors from their beliefs. Rather than pretend to be righteous while in fact being unrighteous, the apostles find themselves doing and saying things that threaten the power of the hypocrites-in-charge. They actually believe that the Law of Moses is based on the Law of Love commanded by Christ! 

If you were to be put on trial to test your righteous—to test your relationship with God—would you rather be judged by men under the Pharisees' notion of the Law, or judged by Christ who has already bailed you out of prison and found you not-guilty? If you long to live the truth, come to the light of Christ, so that your works may be clearly seen as done in God.

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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:32 AM

    Thank you for this. It spoke to my life and to my heart and to my faith; it strengthened my hope. Thank you.