March 11, 2005

The Last Temptation: A Lenten Meditation

Those of you who have seen the film (or better, read the book) will recall that the last temptation of Christ was to come down from the cross, not in a show of spectacular deliverance with legions of angels, but in renunciation of his messiahship to take up life as a simple Galilean carpenter, married with children, ending his life in obscurity. As we know from the other book (and countless films) he didn’t.

Jesus Christ did not commit suicide. He was executed at the instigation of religious leaders and at the hands of the state, for alleged crimes against both. Yes, he could, at any number of points, have prevented his execution by ceasing to do the things he had done, ceasing to claim the things he had claimed. Engaging a simple moratorium on public speaking would have done wonders for his longevity. But he didn’t. He kept doing what he knew was right (anguished enough about it and pleading for another way, another path, to the point of sweating blood). And they crucified him.

One of those in the conspiracy surrounding his end saw this as a way to preserve the status quo of uneasy peace between imbalanced forces; he thought it expedient that one should thus suffer for the sake of so many. Another, a politician from the north, saw this as a way to heal the breach with his opposite number, the governor in the capital; and they became fast friends. Victims come in handy when you want to displace anxiety, and ease tensions in the body politic—or ecclesiastic.

They urged him to repent and recant, to take back the discomfiting words that had so upset the equilibrium of the system—or otherwise to prove himself to be who he claimed to be with a show of power and might. But he didn’t.

Countless of his followers similarly were offered easy ways to keep the peace: to say, or cease from saying, a form of words—what is a word, after all; just air is it not? To drop a single grain of incense on the coals before the statue of the emperor—so simple, so meaningless; a trivial act to save your life! But they didn’t.

When the history of our present time is written centuries from now, what will be recorded? Did they, or didn’t they?

In the peace of Christ, which is no peace, but strife closed in the sod,


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