A very real problem…
While reading the gospel account of Matthew today I was stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t shake what I was reading. Here’s the context, Jesus had been betrayed, arrested, tried, found guilty, and condemned to death. They’ve bound him and begin to transfer him to the governor for execution. Here’s what I read next that stopped me…
When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.” “What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.” Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.’ Matthew 27:3-5 (emphasis mine)
I know, right! This is a problem.
When the betrayer of an innocent man comes clean, returns the dirty money, and pleads with the religious leaders of his community, they respond in the most horrific manner. Apathy is probably the best word to describe their response. They didn’t care. It wasn’t their problem. They had paid the blood money for the innocent man to be stabbed in the back. But somehow it wasn’t their problem.
The money was likely from the treasury of the synagogue or Jewish Temple. It was “church” money. It was used for devious, dark purposes. These men had conspired against Jesus, used Judas, and were now separating themselves from the situation. How dare Judas bring this problem to them. It was on his head as far as they were concerned. They didn’t share his remorse. This was the posture of a broken religious system at odds with hurting people and aligned with greed, power, and empire.
The problem continues…
I couldn’t help but think to myself that I was guilty at times of having the “not my problem” posture towards hurting people. I’ve seen it in American church leaders my entire life. Apathy. Hurting people, hurt by their own decisions, and we dismiss them as getting what they deserve. As if somehow their involvement negates the need for love and grace. As if we are better because our decisions, or maybe even our circumstances, make us better.
As spiritual leaders who follow Jesus while leading others to do the same, I think we should be the antithesis of apathy. We should be actively concerned for people. Christ suspended judgment and activated love, grace, and acceptance. The ones most concerned with the cause of the pain and remorse lost sight of how to help hurting, repentant people.
In Jesus, we see a drastically different approach to the confession and repentance of a broken person, broken by their own poor choices. Here’s a story Jesus told that contrasts the apathy of these religious leaders…
‘“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.‘ Luke 15:20-24 (emphasis mine)
Instead of apathy, the lost, broken, remorseful son got a party. The point of this story is to show us the character and nature of God. The love and compassion of a father to a son transcends the transgression. Grace. Mercy. Love. Acceptance. A party. A seat at the table in the house of the father. Not because the son deserved it, but precisely because he didn’t deserve it.
The world needs more loving fathers. We need more active grace and less apathy. And it starts with the leaders of the churches who follow Jesus. He’s the central figure. His example is our compulsion. It’s time that the people of God begin to look like God in love, grace, empathy, and acceptance.
May we drop “what do we care?” and pick up “let the party begin!”