Tag Archives: Matthew 26

Silence and Spiritual Authority

But Jesus remained silent.
Matthew 26:63 (NIV)

Just last week, on the 15th of April, the Major Leagues celebrated Jackie Robinson day just as it does every year. Every player in Major League Baseball wears Jackie Robinson’s number: 42. It was on April 15th, 1947 that Jackie Robinson  walked out onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and broke the color barrier in baseball.

This morning as I woke up in my hotel room I happened to have a documentary about Jackie Robinson playing in the background and reminded me of the familiar story. When Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Dodgers, brought Jackie to the major leagues he made Jackie promise that for three years he would not respond to the taunts, insults, and attacks that he would face as the first black man to play in the major leagues. Jackie agreed.

The abuse Jackie faced in those years is well documented. The treatment he received in opposing cities was unjust and unfair. Racial slurs and terrible insults by opposing teams and crowds rained down on him non-stop from batting practice until the last out of the game. Pitchers threw at his head intentionally. Runners intentionally spiked him with their cleats, opening up gashes on his legs. But true to his promise, Jackie remained silent. And, he played great baseball.

It seemed like a bit of synchronicity that this morning’s chapter documented Jesus standing before His enemies. They taunted Him. They falsely accused Him. They beat Him and they mocked Him. But true to what had been prophesied, Jesus remained silent. And, He fulfilled His mission.

I’m simply reminded this morning of the power of silence in the face of personal attacks and social adversity. Human nature and our own culture desires – even demands –  justice at an intimate, interpersonal level. If insulted, return the insult. If he talks smack to me, I’m going to dish it right back. If falsely accused, make a spirited defense. On the face of it, Jesus’ encouragement to “turn the other cheek” seems foolishly weak.

But it’s not.

It took incredible courage and spiritual strength for Jackie Robinson to remain silent those three long seasons. His silence was, in fact, an act of spiritual endurance while it took a tremendous physical and mental toll.

Turning the other cheek is not running away, slinking back, or cowering in fear. Turning the other cheek requires standing in, facing your enemy, and defiantly presenting him the opportunity to do it again. It reveals and highlights the injustice. It makes known the truth of the situation.

After three years of sticking to his promise, Jackie was released from his bargain with Branch Rickey. Then it was the wisdom of Solomon that took over. “There is a time to be silent, and there is a time to speak.” Three years of remaining silent before his enemies had earned Jackie Robinson the spiritual authority to be one of the greatest voices for civil rights and social change. Jackie Robinson Day continues that legacy each April 15th.

I find it ironic that Jackie Robinson Day fell between Good Friday and Easter Sunday this year.

Jesus, likewise, followed His own teaching before the kangaroo court that had been hastily and illegally assembled to arrange His execution. He remained silent. He stood in. He faced His accusers. He turned the other cheek each time He was beaten. All that Jesus would endure took its lethal physical toll, but the spiritual power that was unleashed would conquer death itself.

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 26

That is when one of the Twelve, the one named Judas Iscariot, went to the cabal of high priests and said, “What will you give me if I hand him over to you?” They settled on thirty silver pieces. He began looking for just the right moment to hand him over. Matthew 26:14-16 (MSG)

I saw an article last week asking whether Judas Iscariot was in heaven or hell. I didn’t read it. It’s the kind of article that whips up emotions, core beliefs and drives a heated arguments. The publisher loves this, of course, because the buzz gets people reading and responding to the article for which there is really no definitive answer (on this side of eternity) so the paper can’t be faulted for taking the wrong side. It’s a silly argument from my point of view as I’ve come to believe that God’s Judgment Seat is a huge chair, and my butt isn’t that big.

Nevertheless, the question of why Judas betrayed Jesus is one I’m p0ndering this morning as I read the chapter. There were spiritual forces at work. The evil one was certainly not absent. Still, my experience is that there are usually plenty of pre-existing circumstances that make room for the enemy’s presence in a person’s heart. So, this morning I’ve been sketching out a little character study of Judas.

As I journey through the accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching, I constantly run across examples of an ongoing argument among his disciples. Who was greatest? Who was least? Who was going to have a better reward and more honorable position in eternity? There was obviously an inner circle of followers in whom Jesus’ confided and Judas was definitely not one of the inner circle. How badly did this gnaw at Judas? Did the seeds of envy and jealousy help give rise to the fruit of betrayal?

Judas was in charge of the team’s finances. Pretty important position. It was also told that Judas used the position for his own personal gain. I find it interesting that Judas’ betrayal comes immediately after Mary anoints Jesus with an extravagantly expensive perfumed oil.  Had that oil been donated and sold, Judas would have stood to profit from the exchange. Was greed worming its way around his heart, as well? How much did that play a part in tipping the scales from follower to traitor?

Judas betrayal also came at the culmination of an intense amount of conflict. Jesus created a riot when he overturned the moneychangers’ tables at the beginning of the week. There had been an escalating tone to the debate and war of words between the religious leaders and Jesus. Besides, the vision of the disciples riding the gravy train to some glorious take-over and world domination as Jesus ascended a throne in Jerusalem and kicked the Romans out was quickly getting dashed to pieces. The proverbial handwriting was on the wall. A shrewd man could see that the religious leaders would need to kill Jesus to calm the storm he was whipping up against them and to preserve their hold on political power.Besides, Jesus had increasingly been talking about the end of the world and filling his teaching with talk of his death. He was sounding like a mad man, not a king. The future for Jesus’ followers was quickly looking bleak. The pragmatic choice was to throw your lot in with the religious leaders and make enough money to get a new start when the dust settled. In retrospect, for the person concerned with self preservation, it was a simple choice.

Envy, jealousy, greed, and self-centered pragmatism. Those are the core character qualities that I see leading Judas to his decision to betray Jesus. It’s easy to roll my eyes in contempt and shake my head in disbelief at the mention of Judas’ name. However, each and every one of the character qualities which led to his actions are very present in my own heart and life. If you’d like a list of examples, I can give you an earful over coffee. The truth is, I’m not that different than Judas. This is why I’m increasingly reticent slide my rear end onto any kind of seat of judgment.

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Lord, have mercy on me.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and feargal