19. Mark 14:53-59
They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” But even on this point their testimony did not agree.
We will have occasion several times over the course of our reading of Mark’s story of Jesus’ Passion to wonder at the intense opposition he engendered. Today it manifests itself in the form of false testimony. Jesus’ opponents wanted him silenced so desperately that they were willing not just to lie about him, but to seek out and persuade numerous people to lie about him, even to the point that their testimony didn’t agree. Why? What has he done? Healing, feeding, preaching – what offense are these?
Actually, they are a terrible offense, for each calls into question the status quo. Healing those we know to be sick, feeding those we are used to having go hungry, preaching against corrupt religious practices and giving the hopeless hope. These are all tremendously offensive, even dangerous, because they call into question the conclusion that the world cannot be changed, that there is a reason for inequality, that we must accept the present circumstances.
Why is this so frightening? Because as a species we greatly prefer order and stability to change and risk. This makes perfect sense when you think about it. Stability creates a sense of security and promotes growth. Change, even change for the better, creates anxiety. We may not love our present circumstances, but at least we know them. Who knows what may happen if we change. This a theme that runs throughout the biblical witness, from the murmuring of the oppressed slaves who left Egypt only to miss the “comforts” of Egypt to the religious authorities who would rather silence Jesus than contemplate what the kingdom of God might look like.
But we make a grave mistake if we imagine this to be a thing of the past, or something that only afflicted the Israelites, or that Jesus’ adversaries are particularly corrupt. This story isn’t primarily about the first century religious authorities who felt threatened by the in-breaking of a kingdom and community of wholeness and equality – this is a description and indictment of the human condition itself. For to be human is to be insecure, and insecurity breeds fear: fear of change, fear of losing what we think we deserve, fear of risking the known present for an unknown but potentially better future. Fear is a terrible and powerful thing. And in this story it leads those caught in their fear to lie and to persuade others to do the same and, when that fails, to kill.
This story is about the human condition, I said. Which means, of course, it is really about us. God help us.
Prayer: Dear God, help. This world can be a frightening place. Help us live with our fears and not be dominated by them. Help us live with our fears rather than lie and kill in the hope of escaping them. Help us live with our fear and, by trusting you and loving others, help us overcome them. In Jesus name, Amen.