25 April 2011

Can your testimony be bought?

Octave of Easter (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula

A lot of money changes hands in the week that Jesus is betrayed and put to death. Judas gets his thirty pieces of silver—the price of a slave—for ratting out his friend and teacher. The Roman soldiers who witness the empty tomb get a large bag of coin for lying about what happens to Jesus' body. The story they are paid to tell—that the disciples stole his body in the dead of night—“still circulates among the Jews to the present day.” Apparently, the chiefs priests and elders got their money's worth! It's curious though that they thought it necessary to concoct a mundane conspiracy in order to explain Christ's resurrection. If they truly believed that Jesus was a fraud, and if they believed that most people would agree with them, why go to the trouble and the expense of paying off the Roman guards to lie? Simply offer an alternative explanation for the body's disappearance and let the rumors fly. Doubt is a powerful virus in the body of truth. It replicates and spreads, infecting every fact it touches. My guess is that the chief priests and the elders were worried that Christ really had been resurrected and that a great many of their followers would believe this truth. Paying off the Romans guaranteed that their alternative theory would be grounded in “evidence”—the false witness of the tomb's guards. Regardless of their motivations, there's a deeper story here: we are all too willing and able to sell our testimony to the highest bidder. 

One of the constant pressures one surviving and thriving in a largely secular culture is the temptation to give a little when it comes to bearing witness to the gospel. Christ said himself that he came to bring a cleaving sword. That his message would divide, persuading many and angering most. The history of the Church in the world bears this out. Even when the institution of the Church held near absolute political, social, and economic power in the West, Christ's uncompromising teachings on the necessity of repentance and his commandment to love caused trouble. Nothing undermines our sense of social balance, our need for justice, more radically than Jesus' order that we must forgive one another as many times as it takes. Common sense demands a limit to the number of times I must forgive the same sin! Whoever told you that following Christ has anything at all to do with common sense lied to you. Don't let the devils of convention, practicality, and good manners tempt you into selling your testimony for thirty pieces of silver. In the long run—the longest run—it's a really bad bargain.

Judas sold his loyalty. Christ was resurrected anyway. The soldiers sold their integrity. Christ's church thrives anyway. Two thousand and eleven year later, the truth of the empty tomb is still proclaimed around the world. The priests and elders had hoped that an alternative theory and a large sum of money would keep the truth from getting out. Didn't work. However, their resurrection conspiracy theory still has a chance of succeeding. All they need today is for us to weaken and fall prey to the cultural predators who circle our wounded Body. All they need is for us to stumble once or twice over our sins and give up on the notion that we are forgiven; to surrender the gospel of mercy to common sense, science, politics, or political correctness. Doubt will see its chance to infect the truth, and we'd be tempted to accept the offers to sell our testimony, to lie about our Christ. If we remember that we are already bought, already paid for, we can dismiss these devils. We belong to Christ and there's not enough silver in the cosmos to pay for what is free.

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