07 April 2011

Who you gonna believe?

4th Week of Lent (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula

If you watch police procedurals on TV—like Law & Order or The Practice—then you know that the frustration of watching the competing lawyers dance around the legal niceties of what counts as “telling the truth” can maddening, and you want to scream at the judge, “He's guilty of rape! I saw him do it in the second scene of the show!” Thus are the perils of being a hidden observer of secret crimes: you know he's a rapist or that she's a child abuser only b/c you were given the privileged vantage point of being a witness to their televised crimes. You have to remind yourself constantly that the neither the judge nor the jury in that TV courtroom saw the crime committed. You are a mute witness with a God's eye view. Accused of all sorts of crimes against the Jewish Law, Jesus must defend himself in the court of public opinion with the only testimony he has available: his word that he is the Son of God and the physical evidence of the works he's performed in God's name. Unfortunately, for Jesus, Jewish law does not put much stock in the testimony of the accused. So, Jesus does the only thing he can: he turns the table on his accusers and puts them on trial as untrustworthy witnesses to his alleged crimes. How are they untrustworthy? Jesus says, “How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?”

Sometimes the writers of those police shows will mix things up and leave you hanging 'til the end. You don't see the crime committed. You know only what the cops know, what the judge and jurors know. You have to look at the same evidence; follow the same rules; and decide if the witnesses against the accused are trustworthy. This is no big job for Christians b/c we do it all the time. A large part of our faith is based on the apostolic witness of our ancestors. None of us here saw Jesus walk on water. None of us actually heard him preach. None of us walked into his empty tomb on Easter morning. The disciples and apostles did. They tell us what they saw and heard, and we have to decide if they are trustworthy witnesses or not. But even before we weigh their testimony about what happened back then, we have to decide, in Jesus' terms, whose praise we seek after. Who are we looking to please: one another or God? Only if we are seeking after God's praise will the testimony of our mothers and fathers in the faith prove worthy of our trust. Jesus puts it this way, “. . .if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” 

This is a particularly damning accusation against Jesus' Jewish accusers b/c Jesus is directly challenging their most basic beliefs. He's claiming Moses himself as his key defense witness! Believe Moses, believe in me. Failure to believe in me means rejecting Moses' testimony about me. To rub salt in this wound, Jesus tells his accusers that they have never seen nor heard God nor do God's words remain in them. Why? “Because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.” His point here is that if you don't believe in the Spirit of Moses' Law, then you cannot believe in the Letter of the Law. His accusers do not hear God's word now and they never have nor will they ever if they fail to come to the one whom the Father sent. If the testimony of Moses and all the prophets cannot convince them, and all the works Jesus did in God's name are unconvincing, then they are truly lost and their charges against Jesus are not worthy of anyone's trust. Essentially, they are false witnesses.

If we will be true witnesses to the Gospel, we must first seek the praise of God and not one another. If our testimony on Christ's behalf is to survive the brutal cross-examination of the Prosecutor, then we must be motivated to testify by nothing other than our desire to hear the Father's praise. No one will believe your testimony if you seek the praise of men.

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