Courage at the Cross
We all have secret dreads. Soldiers may be brave in battle but dread the sight of a doctor’s syringe or a black snake in the basement. Courage is an elusive virtue and not particularly reliable. Depending on circumstances, we may be heroic in courage or cowering in fear.
Let’s pretend to go back in time. Be honest. We could easily imagine ourselves courageously opposing socially accepted practices like slavery. We would never imagine ourselves as slaveholders, or as slave traders, or as scoundrels with some socially accepted vice. But would we really have done the right thing?
While we’re at it, let’s go back to the days of Jesus. Let’s imagine ourselves among the Jewish leaders. We have the comforts of a relatively peaceful Jerusalem, never missing a meal. There is the peace of Rome. But that tranquility, of course, was purchased by the sword. We probably have a good deal of sympathy and empathy for the high priest Caiaphas. He’s doing his best to keep peace among a historically rambunctious people occupied by the Romans.
Breaking Roman law comes at a price. The ever-present crosses around Golgotha remind the Jews of the cost of opposing their occupiers. Even so, the Romans cut the Jews some slack because of their zeal for the Law of Moses. The Romans allowed the Jews to practice their faith and do not force them to offer sacrifices to Roman gods. This exception is extraordinary in the Roman empire. (The Romans would slaughter the early Christians for failing to honor their gods.) Nevertheless, the occupation by the hated Romans brings an uneasy peace. The people hunger for the promised Messiah who will free them from their bondage.
Then a young upstart by the name of Jesus enters on the scene and causes a sensation. His precursor, John the Baptist, prepared his way. Crowds of sympathizers were already in place from the time when Herod beheaded John. And Jesus has earned their allegiance. The miracles, the healings, and the words of Godly wisdom have persuaded many that Jesus might be the promised Messiah.
Most of the leaders of the Jews are not convinced. Jesus does not amuse them. He speaks with authority and not like the scribes and Pharisees. So they see Jesus not only as a threat to their privilege but even as a threat to their existence. Would the popularity of Jesus result in calling down the wrath of the Romans on the people, as the high priest feared?
It was Caiaphas who famously argued for the murder of Jesus with, “Better than one man should die than the whole Jewish nation.” Seriously, who among us would blame Caiaphas for his fear? Do the math. Is one innocent life worth many lives? Who among us would hold fast to Catholic morality at the price of one’s life or the lives of one’s family? With a Roman sword aimed at our hearts, who could blame us for denying the faith? For that matter, who could criticize us for renouncing the faith to protect our reputation in polite company?
And who could blame us if, out of desperation, outrage, and fear, we would find ourselves numbered among that crowd as Jesus stood before Pilate? Who could blame us if we joined in with one accord, demanding: “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Courage is indeed elusive. But because of our faithless cowardice, and in spite of it, Jesus our Lord and God gave us the perfect example of courage—and redemption by the blood of his Cross.
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