Friday, March 29, 2013

The Hour of Shadows

We all know that this is a fallen world and that the power of evil is stalking through it.  We can see it on the news.  We can hear it in our lives.  We can feel it in our hearts.

I was watching a report about a high school shooter.  In court he cursed out his victims families and proudly wore a t-shirt that said "killer."  There was no remorse in his eyes or repentance in his actions.  Here was a man-child who reveled in the anguish he could cause.  Who could see that and not see evil?

Someone I know recently told me about a poor mother who brought her infant child in for an MRI.  When a fatal ailment was detected, the mother decided to abandon the baby that very day.  Who could hear that and not hear evil?

And as I encounter the sins of my fellow man, I can feel myself climbing above them in judgment.  Inside I look down on those whose sins are manifest, and yet I cast a shadow on the secret sins of my heart.  I too am often the whitewashed sepulcher that appears good and clean on the outside, but is wasting away inside from corruption.  How can I feel that and not call it evil?

But I have remember that while the forces of darkness rage violently to this day, the real battle has already been fought.

Satan had one chance, the hour of shadows, to claim victory.  And the Prince of this world did everything he could to win.  He had laid the groundwork already.  He entered Judas to bring him to the betrayal.  He had stoked the indignation of the righteous against the one who made them feel uncomfortable.  He, the prince of practicality, had convinced the leaders of Israel that it would be better for one man to die so that the nation could survive.  And he used Peter, immediately after he had been given the Keys to the Kingdom, to tempt Jesus away from His mission.  The Devil knows how to subtly strike at our foundations so as to make our lives topple.

Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane.  I have been told that there on the Mount of Olives, he would have a very clear view of the cohort of men coming to arrest Him.  But in the opposite direction was a gate that would lead into the hill country.  Like David escaping the clutches of Saul, Jesus could have left and never been captured.

It would have been so easy.

In the garden, Jesus is abandoned and betrayed by those He loves.  And it was for these men too that He was to sacrifice.  He was about to give up His life.  They could not give Him 1 hour.  I can seem myself so clearly now do some small errand in a store and coming across a small token of kindness that I could give someone;  I see a book or a movie or some other trinket that I know would be enjoyed by another.  But then I think of the cost.  Then I think of its lack of necessity.  And then I think of whether or not I owe it to the person.  If I decide it costs too much, is not necessary to me, and I don't owe the person a gift, I usually let it go and move on.  Jesus knew the cost to save these cowards.  He would gain nothing from it.  And He owed them nothing.  How could have decided that they had proved their disloyalty and thus excused Himself from the cross.

It would have been so easy.

Before the High Priest, he could have lied.  How have I lied to get out of trouble?  So much that it is sometimes impulsive.  When I screw up and a question of responsibility is put to me, my mind immediately goes to some kind of deflection that would shift the blame from me and land on another.  One word was all that stood between Jesus and acquittal.  None of the evidence or witnesses against Him at the trial could have convicted Him.  So the High Priest asked Him, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?"  One word could have ended the conflict and saved His skin: "No."

It would have been so easy.

Pilate found himself an escape hatch by sending Jesus to Herod Antipas, the murderer of John the Baptist.  Herod was King of Galilee and had the power to set Him free.  All He wanted was a little miracle.  Jesus has the infinite power of God.  There is no miracle that He could not perform.  He could have done something so minusculy miraculous and Herod would have spared Him from His looming doom.  How often do I use my own power, influence, connections to avoid trouble?  With a snap of Christ's fingers, the wonders of the heavens could have danced before Herod.

It would have been so easy.

And then came the pain.  Pain unimaginable.  Pain that only escalated.  And Satan laid the burden heavier and heavier.  He incited to crowds that acclaimed Jesus king only 5 days earlier to call for His death.  He set the scourging chords to shred His tender flesh.  He pushed the soldiers to mock His mission by crowning Him with thorns.  They actually reviled Him, not in spite of being our Savior, but BECAUSE he came to save us.  Even on the cross itself, where every breath was an agony, they said, "Come down from the cross and we will believe."

When I think of this my mind actually goes to a strange place (please bear with me).  There was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Captain Picard was captured and tortured.  They had implanted in him a device that hit him with exceeding agony.  Throughout his torture, the shined 4 lights on him.  His torturer wanted him to say that there were actually 5 lights, not 4.  When Picard would say that there were 4 lights, the excruciating pain would begin.  At the end of the episode, his torturer gave him a choice.  A life of leisure, comfort, and rest or he would turn on the device and never let it stop.  All he had to do was tell him that there were 5 lights.

What a simple choice.  Pain for your principles or leisure for your lies.  And what are principles?  They are not material.  You cannot hold them or see them or smell them.  And who is to be any the wiser?  Can I not act one way on the outside but believe differently on the inside?  I think of myself in that situation and I feel keenly that I would have broken.  How could I not?  Even the thought of such suffering makes me feel the shadow of pain in my body.  Could not Jesus have spared Himself all of that pain?

The answer is actually yes.  Pope Benedict pointed out that because Jesus is God, His word would have been enough to save us.  All He had to do was say, "You are saved," and our sins would be forgiven.  He could have come down from the cross, forgave everyone's sins, and returned home to Paradise.

It would have been so easy.

But He remained until He could say "It is finished."  And it was finished.  Evil had this one chance to destroy goodness and it failed.  The power of Satan was destroyed.  When I see, hear, and feel evil in this world I have remember that the shadow will pass.  The battle has already taken place.  The war is over.  The Devil has lost.  He may try to capture a few more souls before he retreats to Hell, but Jesus won the victory.  And though He had the power to save us at a word, He chose to save us by the Cross.  Why?  Because, as Pope Benedict says, that is the only way we would ever no who God really is.

He did not flee to save His own skin because God is Selfless

He did not abandon those who abandoned Him because God is Mercy.

He did not lie to His captors because God is Truth

He did not show off to Herod because God is Humility

And He did not hold anything back, not even His very body given up to torturous death on a cross, because God is Love.

And as He is, so we must also be.  We must be selfless, merciful, honest, humble, and loving.  And when we are, the shadow of evil will pass like a nightmare that lingers at first, but is soon forgotten.

Lord, by Your Cross and Resurrection, You have set us free.

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